(reading time: 1 hour, 29 minutes)
Open Season on Man
Micah really only needed one other person to help him attach the chair to the lift, but he knew Charlie well enough to know he could never amount to one whole unit of helpfulness. He was the kid who always veered off the trail on his sled. Threw his bowling ball into the next lane. Got the wrong order at a restaurant and ate it without a word of acknowledgment or complaint.
He’d seen the boy, at several different ages, wander in from the trails with various bloody scrapes and contusions, a smile on his face, no idea how it happened but certain that it didn’t even hurt, not one little bit.
This also meant he wasn’t the most trustworthy around heavy machinery, so Drew had to join them, grabbing the back of the chair while the other two took the sides. They shuffled across a short stretch of snow before setting it down on the concrete under the tall awning of the lift station.
“So Mr. Friday, do you have a favorite Red Summit movie?” Drew asked him as they caught their breath. Even if he couldn’t ensnare Dr. Morbisha in conversation he could still get a small fry employee.
“I’ve never watched one all the way through, just snippets as I passed by the screening rooms.” He pulled the gate of the station open and went to its set of controls, priming everything. Even without looking at the kid he could feel his shocked gaze.
“Well… you were around when they were making them right?”
“Most of them, yeah. Mr. Bandle had me coordinate the film crews and their accommodations sometimes. Busy few years.”
“I think you mean prolific! Did you get to meet any of the actors!? Leslie Hope? Maximilian Dolson? Harper Sage?”
“Probably kid, but it was a lot of people. They all blurred together.”
“Oh there’s no way Harper Sage blurred with anybody. She was always in focus… or maybe that was just me doing that to her.” His eyebrows went wild expressing hints of his teenage fantasies, but they stopped when the lift station whirred to life. Micah had flipped on the power. A line of pale lights traveled all the way up, illuminating not just the lift poles, but expanses of pink snow like gum tissue.
“Wow,” Drew uttered, watching the fog of his own breath to see if it turned pink as well. No such luck. He tried again while Micah stepped out of the booth.
“Alright boys, pay attention,” he said, but Charlie was staring off into the distance, not at the lights, not at the trails, not at the resort. Micah snapped his fingers several times to draw him back. “Charlie, you hearing me?”
“Sure am Mr. Friday.”
“Good, because this is important. If any of you kids hurt yourself on the equipment that’s going to fall on me. That there is the bull wheel.” He pointed at the large metal wheel turning a few feet above their heads. It was painted bright red, and there was a groove in it where the thick cable meant to hold the chairs returned, turned, and went back up the slope. “It can be very dangerous. Don’t go putting sticks, or god forbid your fingers, anywhere near it okay?”
“Okay,” Drew answered.
“Charlie I really need to hear an ‘okay’ from you too, and I need you to mean it.”
“Alright, let’s hook her up.” They repositioned themselves around the two-seater chair, grabbed it by the arm rests and back support bar. “On three. One, two, three!” They hoisted it up, Micah doing most of the work of aligning its hook with the cable. It successfully looped over and held, the chair taking off over the trails.
“There’s a stop halfway for the bunny slopes, and the black diamond stuff is at the top. You kids stay away from those too.”
“I’ve done them before,” Charlie reminded.
“I know; I remember signing your cast.” The trio watched the chair as it rocked a little in the wind. Occasionally it would disappear behind a few trees, but it returned less than two minutes later. Micah suggested the boys give it a real test run, so they got in position and flopped back into the chair as it came around.
He watched their hatted heads and dangling feet as they ascended, looking away when the first bank of trees hid them. Just to be careful he circled around the control booth while they were gone, looking for any loose equipment that Charlie could injure himself with. There were some twigs that couldn’t be called sharp unless you’d seen Charlie cut himself on playing cards; Micah stomped them flat.
Something caught the corner of his eye, something moving. Reflexively his back hit the wall of the control booth and his hands went up, only for him to smooth over his swallowed breath and relax. He must’ve just noticed a flying blob of snow from his own stomping, because the thing definitely wasn’t moving. It was frozen in place.
He approached it, squinting. It convinced him to give some credence to the idea that too much screen time was ruining the children of the day; they seemed to get worse at making snowmen every season.
This one was shaped like a finger with no distinct base, torso, or head. It was leaned so far forward that he was surprised it hadn’t collapsed in the days since the resort closed. Of course, it could’ve been a trespasser. There was always a rich teenager with their own snowmobile popping by to make a bloody snow angel and take video.
The snowman’s eyes were poked deep into its head, the color of the algae intensified to its deepest red. The mouth was a simple smile of the same dots that made up the eyes. Red striations bled from the points of impact, like ink filling the grooves of a fingerprint. Micah realized he was bending over, so he stood back up, looked around. There was no sign of the person who made it, no footprints or sledge marks.
His eyes were drawn back to its stupid childish smile. Try as he often did, he couldn’t keep the memories back, especially not with such a reminder staring at him, grinning like that special kind of idiot that couldn’t understand pain because they had none of their own. Its expression dropped him decades down and back to a time just prior to the opening of Rainbow Summit Pictures.
He was sitting in the office of Jeffrey Bandle, inside the resort. There were movie posters all over the wall, each and every one featuring at least one woman with a vacant yet lusty expression on her face. The largest piece of clothing any of them wore was a machine gun held over the breasts, one spent shell casing blocking the navel as it fell.
Micah remembered wondering why they would do that. Was one of the artists upset by the only part of the body that marked connection to another one? Did he want to be the sole creator, the rectangular boundaries of the poster the boundaries of the womb?
“You know I met her at a premiere once,” Jeffrey Bandle had boasted as he settled down in his plush leather office chair, propping his feet up immediately. “She doesn’t look that good in person. Makes me wonder if I could be in one of those things with a little professional makeup on my face. You like movies Micah?”
“Really? But you’re an Indian. Indians get killed by the bushel in those things.”
“At least we had a chance in them. Besides, I stop them before they end.” A young Micah stared hard at his nemesis. Jeffrey had a big face, but his head looked too small for it. He was all ears and forehead, the corners of his smiles and frowns much more distinct than the things themselves. His big teeth could take a bite out of any conversation and leave it bleeding on the floor. “What am I doing here?”
“I know you’re probably awfully raw over me beating the pants off you in court… twice.”
“You were always going to win, not because of who you are, but because someone like me has to lose. Don’t take it as a victory; they didn’t do it for you.”
“Oh that I know.” Jeffrey reached into a desk drawer, pulled out a glass bottle of mineral water. He also produced two frosted glasses and an ice cube tray from a mini fridge. Micah watched in a simmering combination of curiosity and anger as the man plucked out several red ice cubes. As he poured the red spread into the bubbly water, curling and rising like a shark’s dinner bell. He pushed one glass to Micah with two fingertips.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “that’s not the algae. It’s just food coloring. A little novelty item I had my marketing guy work up.” Guy, Micah noted. Singular. Jeff liked to play rich, but he wasn’t magazine cover rich. No private jet, no yacht. He was the kind of rich that always seemed on the precipice of curling into a defensive spiny ball of bankruptcy.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“You’re here… because I want to hire you to run Watermelon Peak.”
“I wish I had taken a sip of this already,” Micah said, shaking the glass as he leaned back in his chair. “Then I’d have an excuse to spit this red shit all over your office.”
“I’m serious. You’re the perfect person for the job. Perfect for me anyway.”
“We’ve literally been trying to shut this place down for years. This monstrosity was built on land sacred to my people. Every footstep you and your family take up here is offensive to me. Why the hell would I ever work for you… and why would you want me to?”
“I’m about to have other things on my mind,” Jeff said, looking at his posters. “My kids aren’t old enough to take it over yet and I need someone I can trust.”
“You can’t trust me! How big of an idiot are you?”
“I can trust you.” He proceeded to explain to Micah exactly how wrong he was about his own priorities and emotional state. “Let’s say you work for me and engage in sabotage. You get caught, you go to jail, I hire somebody new and move on. Once again, only you would lose.
Now let’s say I hire somebody I don’t know with an okay resume. They do the job with no passion, no familiarity with the mountain, and everybody gets bored, and I start losing money. I lose. I don’t like that option.
Door number three! You work for me, take the hefty paychecks I’m offering, and you work hard and smart. You do this because you recognize that nobody else will be in a better position to preserve the sanctity and cultural heritage of the area than the person who gets to run it day to day.
You won’t be able to shut me down, and if we start losing money you’ll be out of a job, but you can keep the guests out of certain corners, you can make sure groups from your tribe can access it for any rituals or ceremonies or whatever, and you get to live here.
I can trust you because I know you’re smart and that you value this place. As long as I’m in your way, this is the only option that makes sense. You can’t block me, so you need to integrate me Micah. I may not be sacred, but I’m part of this mountain now like it or not.”
He sat back and took a clinking swig. Jeff’s smile was pink, like he’d just flossed for the first time in two years. Micah set his glass down without partaking, stood up, wandered around the cramped office in silence for a few moments.
“What, in that white peanut head of yours, do you think the word ‘sacred’ means to my people?” Jeff shrugged.
“You know, holy. Spiritually relevant! You obviously want to rephrase it for me, so go to town. I’m all ears.”
“It might mean those things somewhere else. Here it means inviolable. You do not violate the mountain, you do not violate the snow, or you will face grave consequences.”
“Okay you lost me.” Micah rubbed his mouth as if ready to tear it off and toss it in the wastebasket. “What consequences? I didn’t peg you Indians as raiders.”
“Not from us!” It still took a touch longer for him to offer anything more, and he spoke as if it pained him to do so. “From the blood snow.”
“Let me get this straight… The snow is angry that I’m violating it? Then it can get a lawyer and sue me for sexual harassment. If Mother Nature had good lawyers we’d all be back to foraging for mushrooms.”
“More than two centuries ago, some of my people tried to make one of the three caves into a… temple… of sorts.”
“I’m not telling you that. Forty of them died in an avalanche. They say the snow got redder that night, and it never turned back. That was when we started calling it inviolable. Getting rid of you isn’t protection for the mountain; it’s for you and everyone stuck around you.”
“Well I’m sorry that happened to your tribe, if that happened. But frankly, I don’t care what Indian word you pull out of your pocket or exactly what it means in each and every context. As should have been established already, your words can do nothing to me Micah. So what’s your answer? Are you on Watermelon Peak, as it exists today, or are you down there, looking up?”
Micah Long Friday had thought it over, and over, and over, even after taking the job. He thought about it on that first Monday and that last Thursday, decades apart. He thought about it most nights before he went to bed, and every time he confirmed a reservation, and every time he talked to a lawyer for the resort or for the film studio.
He thought about it again as he stared at the unpleasant, mocking, curled finger of a snowman. His fist went back, ready to smash it to chunks, but as he always did, he thought better of acting rashly. None of the tourists ever knew about the avalanche, but he did occasionally tell someone named Bandle.
They sometimes got to the heart of his reasoning and asked him if he believed the snow had taken offense, intentionally killed his ancestors. He could never answer one way or another, only cryptically, choosing to say that sometimes the man who shouts challenges at the snow causes it to fall with his volume.
“Mr. Friday?” Drew called from around the lift station; the boys were back. Micah turned around and returned to them.
“Everything look safe up there boys?” They answered yes. “Good. Good. You can head back down and get the others. They know how to shut everything down when you’re finished. Say goodbye to them for me, will you? Tell them I’ll see you on Monday.”
“You’re not coming back inside?”
“No, I’m late for something. I’m just going to circle around. Have fun boys… and good luck.” He left them there without another word, all too eager to get their eyes, and the snowman’s, off his back.
Ages ago his parents had taught him the special way to walk in the watermelon snow: the walk-that-didn’t-violate. They said it went all the way back to the three caves, the avalanche. It was supposedly the only way they were allowed to dig through the aftermath and pull out the bodies.
Micah stayed as light on his feet as possible, practically skating across the surface, even as he went downhill. The snow behind him was disturbed, but its pink color was barely darkened, just a line of runoff from a sunset canvas.
If the Arapaho ever ascended in numbers they did so single file so as to minimize the affected surface area. Every news station that filmed them for coverage of the lawsuits used that to their advantage. To them the walk-that-didn’t-violate was just strange, alienating. They framed his people at a distance, using only clips where the walk made them look like they were chained together.
Micah hated watching the stories on television. Some sport would go to commercial break, and there were his people, often with him leading the sullen line, all marching as if to the gallows. Outside of a western his people were always filmed as if they were already dead. He could see the newscasters’ faces twitch as they fought the urge to say something about viewer discretion, just before they realized there wasn’t actually anything disturbing on the screen. At least in westerns they had a chance. They were alive before the climax, making decisions, not just losing them.
There was another one of the snowmen. Micah stopped, but he felt a jolt of terror as his feet sank. He was hugging the wall of the resort, so he jumped up on a step outside a maintenance door. The snowman’s side was flat against the wall, smeared into its grooves like peanut butter on bread. Like an abandoned scoop of ice cream melting on a log.
Its artisan had to be the same as the last one, as it had a nearly identical face. A finger punch for each eye, a series of them for the smiling mouth. All darkest glittering red like a candy apple’s abscess. Like a seeping mudpot of a blemish on some primordial dinosaur’s hide.
He gritted his teeth, wishing the snowman would do the same, would just get rid of that perverse smile pressed against the wall. It was like it was saying something this time, no, lots of things. Lots of things that would violate any sense of decorum were it an actual person.
“Hey, you wanna come lick this wall with me? You don’t know what you’re missing. They’ve hidden something in there. Something juicy. Oh it’s so good Micah. It’s practically finishing me off. Man, what it would be like to go inside. The things I’d do in there. Hooh, you don’t even know and you don’t even want to know. You sure Micah? You sure?”
When he eventually got off the step, with a jump-that-didn’t-violate, they had one of those too, he skirted around the snowman as widely as possible. His eyes never left it, and he was only slightly relieved when its head didn’t turn to follow him. Even when he was so far past the corner he couldn’t see it anymore he continued to walk backward, just in case it peeked its little pinky head out and tried to ask him if he was sure he didn’t want a taste one more time.
After shutting the door of the shuttle, and settling into its deep driver’s seat, he finally took a few breaths. He found himself thinking about the avalanche again. The three caves the blood snow crept out of every year when the cold returned. Those were the truly inviolable places, and they were off limits on the resort grounds. Too rocky. Too much liability.
The skiing was probably just a minor annoyance for the mountain, but it still fired back with some of its own. Strange feelings of being watched, traveling on the wind, lighting on your shoulder like mosquitoes considering having a sip. Spots that you would see where the red was just too much like blood. A practical joke to disturb them. To give them a hint that they shouldn’t get any closer, to what they weren’t sure, but something around there.
Micah turned the key in the ignition and switched the radio on just to hear a real voice, to get rid of the one he’d constructed for Watermelon P-
♪ The weekend’s ours, we’ve got a Saturday flaaa-aaa-aaag! ♪
♪ Air’s so charged your boss’ll gaaa- ♪
He jumped at the blaring song and cranked the knob down as fast as he could, to a whisper. Smart enough to wait until his heartbeat slowed down before operating heavy machinery, Micah wound up staring at the statues out front. His own prints alongside them were essentially invisible, but all the others were plain as strawberry jam on bathroom tile.
It wasn’t even difficult to see which ones belonged to which person. Fidelia trudged, always walking against the wind no matter which way it was blowing. Drew was an eager line: a vole sprinting from one piece of cover to the next. Charlie bounced around like a stick flowing down a creek, turning whenever a protruding rock got in the way. Percy clomped, his feet going wherever they would fit, practically splashing. Antonia had a nervous shuffle, like the snow was going to collapse under her at any moment.
They were all noise to Watermelon Peak, surely. They were the one line of water that insists on running down your face in the middle of a shower. Flies in the soup that had installed a diving board.
“But I’m trying to buy it,” Micah Long Friday reminded himself with a sigh as he gripped the steering wheel. “So what’s wrong with me?” The shuttle backed up, quickly crossing the pink lapping edge in the snow where the algae stopped. And just like that he was back in the real world, back in July, back in civilization. He finally relaxed, because there was nothing to violate with his every move.
“You don’t have to stay with me Mr. Bandle; I’ve got my cocoa to keep me company,” Toni said, meek but snug in her thick coat, gloves, boots, scarf, and earmuffs. She was nestled in a wicker chair, the tall cushion having swallowed enough of her that in combination with her pregnant swell she wasn’t actually sure she could climb out of it on her own. She swished her head back and forth, catching the steam from her clasped mug in her nostrils to keep her nose warm.
“Don’t be silly… You’re… our guest,” Percy grunted as he dragged a matching table through the snow, leaving the kind of trail a polar bear might while pulling a shredded walrus carcass. His chair was already in place, so he twisted the heavy thing between the two and collapsed onto it. The distance between the cafe’s outdoor eating deck and the foot of the slopes wasn’t far enough to make him as out of breath as he was, but Toni couldn’t imagine a situation where she would point that out.
He slid off the table and into his own seat, heel of his crossed boots resting on a pair of skis he’d taken from the rental counter. Using a gloved hand as a visor, he searched for his sisters and the boys as they ascended toward the lift. They weren’t quite there yet, and Charlie told him why by dropping one of his skis for the third time and chasing it back down a ways.
“Once Charlie gets tired he can take my place and I’ll go get some runs in. It’s not like I haven’t used these slopes plenty over the years.”
“What was it like growing up here?”
“There’s not a single child on the planet Earth, or in the Milky Way, who had a better childhood than me,” Percy insisted, smiling contentedly at her. “Our dad gave us everything kids could want. We were eating chicken fingers and dessert waffles from the cafe every day, inviting our friends for ski parties on our birthdays, and watching movies get made in the off season, when we weren’t in the movies that is.”
“Yeah, Charlie and I watched the one you starred in. The video gamey ninja one.”
“Arcade ninja Beatdown. I played Jackie Quarters, high score prodigy recruited by the spirit of Confucius to fight the evil ghostly shogun living in an arcade cabinet, endowed with magical ninja powers.”
“It was cool, but Confucius is Chinese and shoguns and stuff are Japanese.” Percy rubbed the back of his head.
“True, but my dad was part of a different time. To him Asia was Asia. China, Japan, Korea, all the same thing. I know it’s not considered sensitive these days. Sometimes when I go and sign things at conventions there’s somebody who’s pretty upset about it. Now that he’s gone I have to make excuses for him, but I do it. Every bit of respect he didn’t show other people he showed to me.”
He went to take a sip of cocoa, only to realize he hadn’t actually gotten himself a cup. He chuckled and let his empty hand fall.
“Do you want a sip of mine?”
“No, no, don’t be silly.” Percy watched the steam rise. “Well if you insist.” After she slid it across the table he took an adult’s gulp, a coffee chug, and when the cup stopped taking up his entire view he saw Charlie chasing his ski one last time.
The others waited under the bull wheel for him to catch up. Diamond, dark in her mostly black gear, looked like Fidelia’s shadow. The younger woman’s coat was sherbet orange, and her hair was pulled back under earmuffs that clashed with her lime green boots and cherry lemonade skis. It was an ensemble cobbled together from all the different eras of her life where she’d taken to the slopes.
“You two are to stay off the black diamond trail, you hear me?” she warned them once Charlie had caught up.
“Yes Ms. Bandle,” Drew affirmed with a nod so deep it was nearly a bow. The boys lined up and took the chair first, leaving the siblings to wait, which Diamond knew could not be done in silence.
“So how’s Woraphop?”
“He is well.”
“He didn’t want to come?”
“He hates the cold.”
“And yet he married you.” Fidelia smiled to make sure she knew it was a joke. Diamond smiled back, but they both knew it was fake. It was her movie poster smile. “Lighten up Dubs. This is supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to be taking the chairlift back twenty-five years, and you show up halfway through a book about getting raped.”
“I’m all the way through it,” Diamond said, stepping away and leaning on the control booth. “I wrote it. That’s an advance copy. It’s due to come out after the new year.” Fidelia blinked as if she’d been sideswiped by a spray from a perfume salesperson.
“What? So it’s fiction?” Diamond didn’t answer, but her sister heard a truthful one anyway. “It’s not. So you wrote a book about getting raped? When was that supposed to have happened?”
“It happened more than once, and in more than one way, and you can read all about it when it comes out.”
“No, I mean, who raped you Diamond? Why wouldn’t you tell me and Percy?”
“The same reason neither of you mentioned the real reason we’re all here this weekend.” Fidelia looked away, not offering a response. “Micah told me you want to sell the place. Don’t blame him; he thought you’d already told me.”
“Crap.” Fidelia leaned on the wall as well, watching the wire ferry her son to the top of the mountain. “Great big frozen buckets of crap.” She groaned a sigh, or sighed a groan; she couldn’t really tell them apart at that middle point in her life. “We did actually want to have some fun before we asked you.”
“Why do you want to sell?”
“Are you going to make me say it?” Diamond answered with an immovable stare. “Because I’m broke Dubs! I got nothing but Charlie in the divorce, and he goes and knocks up some girl. I mean, knowing that kid I’m actually surprised it took him six girlfriends to do it. Jesus.” she rolled her eyes. “It was literally like throwing a dice.”
“Whatever. I got a grandkid to think about, and I’ve never worked a real job in my life. Everything we’re getting is coming out of this place, but it’s barely keeping its head above water, which is so unfair, because it’s a fucking mountain.”
“And Percy?” The chair returned, so they grabbed their skis and let it sweep them off their feet. Charlie and Drew streaked by under them, hollering up. The sisters waved.
“Percy’s in the same boat as me. He’s been signing DVDs for ten years, and nobody buys DVDs anymore. You want him to get some gig spraying shoes at a bowling alley? Because that’s about all he’s qualified for.”
“A little work might not kill the two of you. Maybe just one.”
“We can’t all have a member of Thai royalty with a white girl fetish carry us off to a palace.”
“For the last time, he’s not royalty. He’s from a prominent family and the home we live in used to be a palace.”
“Whatever! My point is, since you can afford to literally give my son’s girlfriend an expensive piece of jewelry, you’re probably not desperate to hold onto your share of the proceeds from this place. If we all agree to sell it’s several million for each of us, and all at once.” They passed over a dark barrier of forest. They ignored the first stop. The second.
Awkward silence stretched to its snapping point, where their skis were forced to make sound as they disembarked onto the double black diamond course called Terror Trail. They hadn’t intended to ride all the way there. If Charlie saw them on it he would ignore all prior warnings and they’d be carrying him inside on a stretcher.
The chair left them to unceremoniously crunch their way through the snow to the edge of the slope. The trail was a winding rattlesnake of rocks and bald spot firs. Each bare patch of bark owed its existence to a guest of Watermelon Peak who thought they had what it took to best the black diamond. Each one was a signed waiver, and at least a broken bone.
Terror was colder than the other trails, and not by virtue of altitude alone. They’d never filmed up there. The terrain didn’t allow it. The snow might have, but not the jagged sticks and stones hiding just underneath. It was only a trail in the sense that the bald spots on the trees marked where you had to turn if you didn’t want to become a frozen smear on the mountainside.
“You want to sell this?” Diamond asked, gesturing with a black gloved finger to the icy maw below. “This isn’t something you sell, unless you want to be cursed. I love this place.”
“No you don’t,” Fidelia snapped. “As soon as your contract for Tell me your Nightmare was up you were off to sweaty mosquito land.”
“Not that kind of love. I love it the way you have to love something you’re forced to live with if you don’t want it to destroy you. This place hurt me, and that hurt has to mean something if I am to go on.”
“Okay Dubs, what? Did you take a bunch of existentialist literature classes so you could write that book? Besides, this place never hurt you. I can’t remember a single time you fell out here. Percy ate it so many times there was practically hoarfrost on his stomach lining.” Wind came through, stirring the trees and biting their noses. Diamond pulled her turtleneck up over the lower half of her face to protect it.
“Micah also said he wants to buy.” Fidelia rolled her eyes, but flinched when she realized she’d taken her focus off the edge of the trail. She shuffled back. There was a tendency for it to pull you in, at least according to one or two liability suits they’d faced, often lost in the maelstrom of litigation their father constantly weathered.
“I know the Arapaho want it back, but their offer just isn’t good enough. There’d be no point in selling at all if we sell it to them.”
“Other than returning it.”
“You know what I meant Dubs. Micah’s family, but Percy and Charlie and whatever awful name that girl is going to pick for the kid are closer family.”
“Do you not like Antonia? She’s not an airhead, which is what Charlie needs to keep him grounded.”
“I like her just fine… What I don’t like is how inevitable this all was. I… saw all this… not like some fortune teller, but like a physicist or an engineer looking at a projected trajectory, you know? The second we stopped making movies I knew Dad was leaving us in one way or another. I knew everyone would forget my name in six months. I knew I’d get divorced and that my kid just didn’t have the makings of… well another Dad I guess. I even knew that you would be completely fine. Because you’ve always been the toughest.”
Diamond looked away sharply, as if taking offense. She checked her black skis to make sure her boots were locked in. She liked to work without poles; she was able to glide right up to the drop with impressive grace, her arms barely moving. Fidelia approached as well and asked what she was doing.
“Prove that you’re tough and you two can have your way.”
“We’ll race. I swear on both these black diamonds that I will sign off on any sale if you can beat me down.” Fidelia’s eyes were dragged down the trail once more. She saw one scar, deep in some bald wood, with exceptional clarity. It was deep enough that she could see the injury it had inflicted, just as she had seen her own downhill life.
“You’re kidding. That’s so… immature Dubs.”
“You said we were taking the lift back twenty-five years. So let’s do that. We used to race all the time.”
“We weren’t really competing.”
“Yes we were. Dad ran a two contestant pageant every chance he got. We each made him dinner for a week hoping to get that part in Demon Hand of the Hitchhiker. He picked you because of a butter-braised steak.”
“Alright, you know what, fine.” Fidelia checked her skis. She managed to crack all of her knuckles through her thick mittens. “This is your funeral. It’s been years since you’ve even seen a snowflake. I’m out here all the time.” She pulled her goggles down. “What’s the finish line?”
“And what do I have to do if you win?”
“Sell to Micah.”
“I can’t speak for Percy, but I won’t fight you on it. Deal?” She extended her hand. They shook, but thanks to gloves their fingers didn’t actually touch. Diamond knew, if things really were like they were an entire filmography ago, that could be a loophole. Her sister could say that since their skin never touched they didn’t actually shake on it, and the deal wasn’t binding.
A Bandle deal was like the snow itself. It held until it didn’t, and you didn’t want to be there, or worse, under it, when it collapsed and slid.
Diamond knew she was faster. Nobody had ever completed Terror Trail as fast as she had in her junior year of high school. She’d brought a date up there: Laurence Kottick. He was the son of one of her father’s executive producers, and he looked like he asked for the ‘executive producer’ every time he went to the barber.
They’d stood pretty much where the siblings stood now, nervous of each other, but outright afraid of the trail. Chicken out and make out. That was the plan. Be giggling cowards at the top of the mountain, occasionally glancing over the side and using the resulting pit in their stomach to heighten the overall thrill.
It worked at first, but she’d started to see something every time she looked over the side. The trail was mostly white, merely tinted pink, but there were a few red streaks from the brave and the foolish. Every time she looked over they didn’t look like they were quite the same, as if they’d wiggled, or throbbed hard like the veins of a speeding cyclist, pumping so much blood they actually shifted with each pulse.
It extinguished all her internal fires, from her head to elsewhere. She put her hands on Laurence’s chest when they were on their sides in the snow, pushing him back gently. He was still giggling, and it had turned absurd to her, like hearing a trout laugh as it dangled off a fishing pole by a skewered stretching lip.
Diamond recalled saying their little sojourn was a bad idea. Laurence said there were no bad ideas, only bad execution. All she heard was the last word, and all she saw, even when she blinked, was the pulse of the mountain and how it quickened as they rolled around disrespectfully on its crown of dark twisted trees.
He didn’t listen to her hands, or the words that followed. He figured they wouldn’t matter once he stuffed them back into her cheeks with his tongue. She kneed him in the groin, snow pants not providing nearly enough padding to keep him from feeling it. Growling, rolling, cursing…
She reacted to his anger, not the exact shape it took. A new fear rolled through her, one of becoming a newspaper clipping. This was the perfect place to get murdered. Laurence didn’t seem capable of it, but she felt their exact location might compel him to. They were inside a fairy ring, mushrooms hidden under the snow, and some arcane force was casting a hex on his vulnerable male mind.
Before he could get up she was on her skis, following the crimson guides down the trail, wanting nothing more than to be at the bottom. The sensation of being watched hounded her the whole way. The trees shifted as something swam around them, like a shark or stingray under the calm icy surface.
Nobody was yelling ‘cut!’ This was a scenario ripped right from one of her father’s scripts. Maybe that artist’s energy was what made Laurence so frightening to her in that moment. There was a director somewhere, feeding him lines, and everything that ended up happening would be appropriate because it served a purpose to the narrative.
The snow helped her. It had to. Even an Olympian couldn’t go that fast. Too afraid to even move her ankles, lest they snap at any resistance and make her tumble, she nonetheless swerved when she needed to, curved where appropriate. It helped her leave, and it was the only thing it would ever help her do.
“Dubs? On the count of three?” Fidelia asked, bringing her back to the starkness of the artificial lights, the black starry sky overhead, and the pink gullet of the peak in front of them. Take two. Try to really look scared this time. Give us a good scream.
“Lights,” Diamond said, shuffling to the edge. Her sister understood and came up alongside, crouching and tensing. “Camera.” Fidelia’s inhale was the only sound. “Action.” Both bodies, one wrapped in shadow and the other in a jumbled rainbow defiant of the night, plunged.
Fidelia sneered. An early lead. Why did Diamond think she never had to try? Sure, inertia got her everything, and it was a lot, but it didn’t win fair fights. Fidelia had fought for the throne so she could be Princess Zua’knok’knok in The Citadel on Mars. Red Summit made its money on her acting, her looks, her charisma. Diamond was just the bottom-feeding creature of the night, scooping up the spent film from the floor and replaying it for the neurotic perverts of three and four A.M.
“Shit!” The curse cracked her dry lips, but that was all that cracked as she ducked under a fallen hairy log in the middle of the trail. Micah never would’ve let that stay up for more than a day, so the fall had to be fresh.
It forced her to the left when the trail forked. She wasn’t as familiar with the left, so she had to keep her eyes glued in front of her. Even under her goggles they were drying out, but one blink could make her fall. Glancing backward was tantamount to suicide. Unnecessary though. She could hear.
There was another pair of skis behind her, over her left ear. Dubs had been forced left as well. Good; they were both on the slower path. Or maybe bad. If Dubs had gone right and won she could’ve argued that being forced to split up made it unfair.
They couldn’t sell to Micah. It would all be over. The money they got out of Watermelon Peak was to be the last drop of glamour wrung from the cold rag. Without it, in full, she was just a divorced mom with a dumbass kid and a premature grandchild. With it they could still be a legacy, their flaws still called eccentricities.
Second place skis were closing in; she heard it. Fidelia bent forward to increase her speed. Even if she broke her leg the money could pay for the best treatment available. A boulder loomed, the shadows in its crevices forming a face, cruel with a furrowed brow, an expression that looked all too eager to take her up on the offer of a chewy femur.
Leaning around it was cake, freeing her up to glance left. She half-expected to see her sister, but nobody else came around the rock, and the sound was gone… but only because the skis were airborne.
They touched down again right behind Fidelia, practically scaring her into a tumble. She still couldn’t look back, not with the stones peeking out of the snow like baby teeth from their gums. They clicked under her.
“No, you can’t look! We’ll get you! No! Nope! We said no Delia! Still fucking no!”
“Come the fuck on Dubs!” she shouted without looking back. “Don’t ride me!” The second pair of skis touched the back of hers, shook her. Fidelia had to flail her arms to stay upright. The mountain curved even more aggressively. The fresh speed worked with Diamond; she was getting double-teamed.
Just go faster. Just be better. That was always the solution. Whatever she needed to do to win could be justified after, and been all the more effective an excuse thanks to the victor’s glow. There was a face of untouched snow through a gap in the trees. It was technically off the trail, but the finish line was Antonia, so the sidelines mattered not.
Her ankles screamed as she bent them as far forward as they would go; the ski pairs clicked as she broke free from under the tips of Diamond’s. Fidelia hit the gap perfectly and was freed from the peeking stones. There was no crash behind her, no clickety-clacks, so Diamond had followed her into the undisturbed powder.
The slope was clear enough that she could finally spare a look back. The black silhouette was there, aggressive, unrelenting, silent. Double Black Diamond. The silent hardass. The maneater. Yet somehow allowed to be the subject of countless wet dreams without freezing them.
She only ever had a vibrant personality when she was Dr. Morbisha. Under that black wig she was sultry; she could do a high-heeled walk in flats. The camera caught her devious smile, boundless confidence, and obsessive fascinations with fear and death as they were things she could not possess.
Fidelia knew that character was the real Diamond. For some reason she always hid herself away from that role. They could never really be sister-confidantes the way she wanted, because Diamond just wouldn’t give up what was going on inside. No, all Fidelia ever got was coughs of coal dust and cold shoulders. They were star athletes, and Diamond blew her off like she was some weirdo talking to her rival in the starting gate.
It didn’t matter, because she’d overplayed her aloof distancing act, getting herself stuck in second place. Nobody who lived in a Thai palace, having her feet washed everyday or whatever it was she did, could pull this move off.
Fidelia spotted a drop. There was a jutting rock with a depression underneath. It was too tall and narrow to jump, and going around would put them back on the trail, but that depression was perfect for gaining momentum. Diamond wasn’t far enough over to see it; she couldn’t know it was there.
The brighter skier lined up with its left edge so her sister couldn’t pass and pretended she was going to make the suicidal jump. Diamond could’ve at least shouted for her to stop, pretended she cared, but she was silent. Fidelia hissed through her teeth when she didn’t hear a warning and veered left, then back right.
In the shadow of the outcropping she found speed on a thin layer of ice over the snow. They were close to where the expert trail rejoined with the novice ones, all terminating in the big gentle slope that stopped at the edge of the lodge. All she had to do was keep up that fresh momentum for another thirty seconds or so.
The skis spoke up again, this time overhead. Diamond hadn’t gone around; she’d gone up as if to attempt the jump. Forced to stop at the last second. The mound of snow on the rock must’ve been turned into a gory blood bath by the sudden halt, chunks of red snowy guts sent rolling.
Fidelia grinned, but the snow wasn’t finished. So much had been pushed off the edge that it started rolling. The skin of ice, so thin its cracks couldn’t even be seen, gave way, and all the snow underneath it. Her straightaway became a tidal wave.
The shifting caught up under her, sped past. The tips of her skis disappeared under it, and then the rest of them. Then the bulk of it struck her back, knocking the hot ragged wind out of her. She went down. And around. And around. A wet limp stick still had enough integrity to stab her in the neck and leave a splinter jutting out.
There was too much shock for there to be any pain, at least not yet, but if she actually saw anything clearly it was her blood mixing with the mountain’s. Every sound was a damp impact or a groan of the snow as the undisturbed complained to the disturbed. Briefly she felt like she was keeping her head above an icy river as it flowed, dodging logs only with the momentum of a leaned neck, which might’ve still had a wooden rudder jammed in its side helping her out.
Finally it slowed and locked Fidelia in place, still shy of the final line of trees that would reveal the lodge. She was buried up to her head, and an experimental attempt to wiggle out with her shoulders produced no results.
“Ahhhhhh!” she shrieked. “This fucking… this stupid fucking… Diamond! Diamond get down here and help me!” The pain tried to rear its head, but anger beat it to the punch. That blonde bitch had done it on purpose. She’d hoped knocking the snow off the ledge would make it catch up, hand her the victory. It was the trail that was supposed to be dangerous, not each other.
Snot leaked hot out of her raw nose. Surely the cavity her body made in the snow looked the same as the inside of one of her nostrils. The watermelon snow wasn’t very dark around her, but each thrash under the surface intensified its hue. Fidelia stopped struggling briefly, overcome by the unpleasant image of drowning in mucus-infused nasal blood flow.
She felt something. Or did she? Was it the sensation of numb flesh bruising? Was it her neck wound, far worse than she thought, seeping under clothes and coating her skin? Was it… the snow? It couldn’t still be shifting. The collapse was over. Everything was back to being quiet. The mountain wasn’t allowed to just… keep thinking her over like that, feeling her the way a tongue might a canker sore.
Skis shuffled toward her; she heard them once again. Diamond was finally coming to help. It probably took her a moment to accept the gravity of what she’d done. At the very least she’d have to agree to the sale now. Life was only a game for her; everyone else was stuck with the runoff of her fun.
“Diamond!” Fidelia screamed again, voice breaking. The snot ran into her mouth, fouled it further. She knew her sister could hear her though. The skis sounded so close. So close, but she couldn’t tell exactly what they were doing. Crossing over each other, yet not slowing the way they should have. There was no sound of them glinting in the moonlight because of their sharpened edges. No sound to tell her that at that moment they looked far more like a pair of open scissors than skis.
“Get your blimp tits down here and h-” She was falling and rolling again, but the snow didn’t join her this time. Lights, camera, action… cut. The final cut. The roll of a lifetime. Her scream queen career autographed all over the slope in splatter and droplets.
Fidelia finally cleared the trees and could be seen from the resort. All Percy and Toni had to do was squint.
It Came from the Oil Spill
“Hey, what’s that?” the girl asked, pointing at the left foot of the wide slope. Percy had to lower the cocoa mug, as he was finishing it off. He squinted. There was a speck rolling towards them.
“Oh I don’t know.” He stood. “Some kind of animal?” Toni joined him and together their boots crunched toward the slope. The object rushed to meet them, coming to an awkward stop just a few feet away. Its damp hair had wrapped all the way around it, obscuring the drawn mouth and open eyes.
Antonia Cordero wasn’t a screamer. Even as a child she rarely cried, but it wasn’t for lack of fear. She responded with paralysis instead, going flat and still like a lizard. So there was no sound the realization could draw out of her, only short stunned breaths. She wanted to cover her mouth, hold them in, but her hands wouldn’t move. The beautiful terror, that struck her dumb and protected her from anything worse than itself, didn’t hit until she already recognized Fidelia’s face through the clinging hair.
“Oh my god…” Percy cried, the mountain and the fleshy pebble at its foot quickly going to ice disappearing under a skin of tears. “Delia!” His mind was different, racing like a rat instead. Rationalizing. Searching burrows of memory with frenzied single sniffs to find less devastating explanations.
He found one. There was a time when this sort of thing could be expected to happen once or twice a week on the red summit. This was just a callback. Oh, but his sisters got him good. He never would’ve suspected Diamond could be brought into something like this, and that’s exactly why it worked.
Any minute now Dr. Morbisha would step out of the woods and roll her eyes, make a quip about her most recent patient losing her head. They really did get carried away though. Toni was young, fragile. She wasn’t in on any of it and she was clearly collapsing on the inside like a paper cup in the hand of a director on his fiftieth take.
“It’s a gag!” he blurted to try and calm the girl; she didn’t even look his way. “It’s just a gag! We have heads in storage!” That got her to turn hers. “Yeah, look at me. It’s not what it looks like. We made horror movies remember? We’ve got a bunch of prop heads in one of the backrooms. They just took one and rolled it down here to scare us. It’s just made of silicone. You… you stay here. I’ll just run and make sure the Delia one isn’t where it’s supposed to be.”
He turned and ran for the resort without giving her a chance to respond, to ask why he didn’t just pick the item up and make sure with his fingers. She wouldn’t have been able to find the words anyway. All she could do was turn a little more so she wasn’t looking at it and stare at the whitest parts of the ground, sobbing quietly.
She couldn’t see the slopes anymore, so she didn’t notice that Charlie and Drew were finishing another run. Not quite finishing actually. They veered away before the bottom of the slope to hop right back on the chairlift, catching it right as the only seat passed by. Charlie waved when he saw her, twisting so much he nearly fell out, but Drew pulled him back around.
Percy reached one of the back doors. It was only ever used back in the production days, and was padlocked when guests were about, but Micah had opened everything up for them. Strange then, that he left a snowman standing right in the way.
He’d seen plenty of weird ones over the years. They’d even hosted a snow sculpture contest with professional artists one year, all of them eager to see what shading effects they could achieve by compacting the watermelon snow, but this thing didn’t look like it had sprung forth from skilled hands. More like palsied hands. More like the fumbling claws of a tyrannosaurus.
It was a single sagging piece with rough edges, like some overcooked corn snack from the bottom of the bag. Its base was half in the snow and half on the concrete step up to the backdoor. A tiny head was turned, as if it had been a moment from going inside when it heard Percy coming around the bank.
Without a carrot nose or button eyes its face looked more like those features had been ripped away and bled, but it still managed a smile. Even chaotic in its construction, he still saw the thing as animated, as a frozen frame in a deranged cartoon rather than a sculpture. His mind couldn’t help but give it fitting dialogue.
“Percy, my man. You know what’s up. Let’s get in there and tear the studio a new one. Raise the damn dust, you know what I’m saying? We’ll find your sister’s head. She was smokin’ hot, so I’ll know it when I see it, even if I just see a little bit of it.
Hey do you remember how you used to practice kissing on those things, since you couldn’t get a girlfriend? Not your sisters’ though, ‘cuz man that would’ve been fucked up! But you used to try holding them at different heights before you stuck your tongue in their rubber mouths right? This is what it would be like to kiss my six foot tall girlfriend… This is what it would be like to kiss my four foot tall girlfrie-”
With a pained grunt he knocked the snowy abomination over. It didn’t resist, but its creepy face landed upright, only getting a little more spread out as it stared up into the stars. Percy disappeared inside, slammed the door shut behind him, looked back to make sure it wasn’t flowing under the gap to follow.
All the heads were down in the old props department. Some of them were too gruesome to be put on display, and still others were never meant to last and were in the process of molding and flaking away to nothing. Even if Fidelia’s likeness was there it might not have been her likeness anymore.
Back out in the cold Toni was forced to turn again; she heard something else coming. It was Diamond slaloming back and forth, looking around for her opponent. There was a red trail, but it wasn’t the double she would expect from a pair of skis, and there was some unusual spatter. She spotted the girl, standing there like she might be trapped in that spot for the rest of her life.
“Hey? Did you see Delia?” Toni squeaked as Diamond slowed and stopped. One of her arms stopped being paralyzed for the briefest moment to shoot out and flap limp fingers in the direction of the severed head on the ground.
Diamond’s boots clicked as she stepped out of her skis. A numb moment later, one she could never guess the actual length of after it was over, she was on her knees and ripping off one of her gloves. She did what her little brother could never do, and ran her hand along her sister’s cheek. Cold as it was, through hair that was beginning to crunch, she knew it was flesh.
How could she never have learned? You don’t treat the double black diamond with anything other than fear and respect. It can do whatever it wants with you, no matter your skill, no matter your cordial relationship with all the other mountains.
But what had done it? A tree? A rock? A spike of ice? The cut at the base looked so clean, and nowhere among the studio’s prop samurai swords was there one sharp enough to do that. Diamond remembered there was someone standing behind her, dying inside. Nothing could be done for Fidelia now. She would’ve wanted the rest of them safe.
“Toni? Toni where’s Charlie?”
Three quarters of the way up Watermelon Peak was the answer. He and Drew were still fit snugly into the chairlift, trying to spit on the exact tips of the trees as they passed over them. They’d never get it, not with their lips so numb. The spit mostly dribbled down their chins; they made gross sucking sounds, the kind that so thoroughly characterized teenage boys.
“Are you having fun?” Charlie asked his best friend after he missed for the fifth time. That was the one thing he was good at paying attention to; he didn’t know why it was only Toni who saw that. Everybody needed to be having fun. A car couldn’t go unless all the parts were moving.
“Yeah this is great,” Drew answered, wiping his mouth with a mitten. “Dr. Morbisha is even sexier in real life. Do… do you think she’ll put on the black wig? Or the glasses?”
“Dude that’s my aunt.”
“I know… but your whole family is legends! I grew up watching them fight demons and space dragons and mutated carnivorous plants. And the whole point of your aunt having a show was that she’s attractive.”
“She won’t say anything about it… but she kind of hates being seen that way,” Charlie admitted. Aunt Dubs was the cool one, and he knew that cool people were always miserable. It was just a fact of life. People fawning over you meant they weren’t on the same level. Everyone grabbing at her sleeve was reveling in being pathetic, tittering in her shadow, crab-walking with a bent back to stay in it.
“No. Back when she was in the movies there was this guy on set, I think his name was Connor. He was in charge of rigging people up for jumping and flying stunts, and he was the guy who made sure the straps fit well enough that they didn’t damage the costumes.
Anyway he would always grab my aunt’s tits and jiggle them around right after he hooked her up. He said it was to make sure the straps right under them wouldn’t slip, but that was bullshit. I don’t know why my grandpa never fired him. Uncle Percy said it was super obvious.
Aunt Dubs was the one that got in trouble. She bribed the person who arranged the credits to list his title as ‘oily sexual predator’ at the end of Womanther.”
“What? No she didn’t. I’ve seen Womanther like twenty times.” Their intended stop passed by underneath, but they were too engrossed to care. They gained altitude quickly. “If there was something like that in the credits I would’ve noticed.”
“It was only at the premiere. Grandpa found out and had it corrected before the VHS came out.”
“Wait I remember now. That Connor guy is always on the special effects team. Wasn’t he the apprentice of Rodrigo Carpini? Red Summit movies would’ve looked like crap without him helming the effects team. At least according to all the critics on the Bloodyshowercurtain forums.”
“Yeah, he was the apprentice. Carpini always vouched for him. He was right back working on Lesbian Bride of Womanther in like a week.”
“Even though he was a total creep?” Charlie nodded. Only then did he notice they were going all the way up, to the treacherous expert trail. He looked over his shoulder. “We can just ride it back down right?”
“Yeah. Toni would kill me if I tried going down that thing.” Drew rolled his eyes and looked away. “What? I bet you when I die it’ll be because I stepped out of her sight for like five minutes.”
“That’s because you’re an idiot, not because she’s great. Remember that I’ve been looking out for you all through middle and high school. I’ve probably saved your life three different times.”
“Definitely three maimings, but probably only two lives,” he joked, but Drew didn’t smile. “Besides, she’s going to be stuck watching our kid all the time, so she might as well watch me too. You’re off the hook.” Still nothing. “What?”
“I wish you hadn’t brought her on the trip.”
“Oh I don’t know, maybe because I’ve been trying to get you to take me with you when you came here for like six years. I asked for this for my birthday every year, and when you finally invited me I thought it was going to be just you and me and legends of home cinema! She doesn’t fit the feel of this place. She didn’t even know about any of the movies until we told her.”
“What do you expect? They mostly came out in the nineties; we weren’t even born yet.”
“She just… barely has a personality! She hardly ever talks, and when she does it’s always I’m too scared to do something like that or I’m too nervous or I didn’t want to interrupt you guys. And somehow she’s still always interrupting! And now that you’re having a kid she’s just always going to be doing that, until we’re dead. Plus now we have to deal with a baby.”
“Dude, you don’t have to be my friend if you don’t want to.”
“Of course I want to be your friend, but I feel like you’re throwing away your legacy! This place is… it’s magical dude. You’re not living up to it.”
“If I stayed here all the time I wouldn’t be living at all. And Toni has a personality. She’s just shy. You know, there’s a reason I waited this long to bring you. My mom wants to sell this place, so this was maybe the last chance.”
“What!?” Drew shrieked like an owl caught by the tail feathers. His face somehow got redder, and his spittle became enough of an artillery barrage that it actually did manage to strike two different tree tops far below. “That’s insane! We have to stop her! We have to do everything in our power to prote-”
The chair shook. With it came a sound, rapidly approaching, like a giant deer fly, or an equally large zipper with a rocket booster attached. The boys looked everywhere, but there was nothing to see at first, because he was dressed as black as the sky.
They were right to be confused. Hardly anybody knew what it sounded like when a ski was dragged across a high tension cable at deadly speed. Even if it was common knowledge, they wouldn’t then assume there was a possibility that someone, hanging onto that ski from both ends, using the chairlift wire as a zip line, would do so with other people in the way.
Drew spotted him first, flying in like a crash-landing vampire. The floodlights reflected off his black helmet’s visor. It looked like a stunt, so that was his first thought. The argument was a ruse. This was all a practical joke. In fact, Red Summit was opening its doors once again and they were already filming. They were in the middle of a shot, and he would finally be immortalized as an extra. After that the next stop was-
The skier let go, but he already had all the momentum he needed. The treads of both black boots struck Drew’s sternum and shattered it. All his ribs buckled and snapped. His heart, thumping quickly from the argument, was crushed between two large pieces of bone. It stopped all at once. That last beat had been a doozy. Like a million in one. Which meant his ticker was all ticked out.
He slumped in his seat, the breath squeezed out of him fogging up the skier’s visor. He hadn’t bounced off, and his limbs were just as sound as before the impact. He’d grabbed the thickest part of the chair’s frame, and now the whole thing was recoiling from his strike, rocking in all three dimensions.
Charlie was still thinking it some sort of accident. This must have been what they looked like, from the other side, when you weren’t the one braining yourself on a stop sign pole or falling out of the bumper car or staring into a laser pointer so long that you damaged your retina. Any moment now Drew’s head would pop back up and he would say he was fine.
Maybe not. He was always a crier. That was how they came to know each other. At a sleepover with five boys, with Charlie and Drew only connected by their host, a VCR was having its going-away party. Like an old dog that had gone blind and lost the will to stand, the machine was now slowing tapes down in places, eating seconds off the end credits with every watch.
Their host’s parents were going to do the deed of dropping it in the dumpster the next day and finally upgrading the living room setup to a DVD player. That night was one last hurrah, and Charlie had been asked to supply the materials, specifically copies of Hellfire Surfing Confederates and Rocky Mountain Roadasaurus.
The others had fallen asleep by the time Charlie and Drew got to the end of the dinosaur movie. The Bandle boy didn’t really see what the big deal was. The films were just colors, sounds, and shapes on the screen. They passed the time, but then he heard Drew sniffle, and looked over to see him wiping his eyes on his pajamas.
The ending wasn’t fair to the roadasaurus. She was just trying to find the lizards she used to eat one hundred million years ago; that was the only reason she attacked that lady’s garden party. The military didn’t have to go in and blow her head off with that rocket launcher. Normally when he watched that one he felt a little better at the end, because you saw her eggs cozy in a pocket of bloody snow, with several human body parts to feed them when they hatched, but the VCR had eaten that brief moment. So they were extinct once again.
Charlie was shocked to see somebody actually cared about a movie the way they might a person. He didn’t know such passion himself. For him everything was simple, straightforward, like he was a compass and fun was true north. It was the first time he saw what passion was: a lifeline. When you were down, or weak, or behind, it could make you surge forward. Maybe you don’t have what it takes to make it in this world, but that thing you anchor yourself to clearly does. You can ride it all the way.
“My family made this,” he had said that night. Drew looked at him without a speck of doubt, eyes sparkling in pure wonder.
But they were closed in the chairlift. The only other face Charlie saw was his own, reflected in the skier’s helmet as the man turned to him. With no regard for balance his gloved hands shot out and wrapped around Charlie’s throat. On instinct he thrashed, but hardly moved. He struck the skier’s wrists, but it was like hitting a two hundred pound sack of flour.
There was another ski strapped across his assailant’s back, and its long end struck Drew’s limp head. The boy’s body pitched forward. When the skier glanced back Charlie kicked at the man’s crotch, which did nothing to loosen his grip, but did push him back onto Drew. Silently furious, the man reached back with one hand to snatch Drew’s coat collar and rip him out of the chair. His body fell; Charlie heard it hit the powder. It wasn’t that far below. They were almost at the top. Almost on solid ground.
Charlie thrashed again, rocking the chair as much as he could, but the skier’s attention was already back. He punched Charlie in the gut, and he’d never felt such force from a person before. It was like that time he fell off the boardwalk at the beach and landed on top of a broken concrete pillar.
There was always another injury to compare it to. They were such an interesting thing to collect because there was never an issue of storage space. As soon as the last one healed you could put a new one in the exact same spot, but you still felt them all cumulatively, in the little stress-sound of your bones bending and in the trampoline pluck of your skin stretching.
But this time he only had the one to compare it to. The night skier punched like concrete, had every pound per square inch of force that gravity did. It was a punch that could’ve killed somebody. His kid. Sitting inside Toni, not ready for any of the world’s licks yet. Deep in his brain, while the rest of his body was battling this thing worse than any mishap, worse than blowing your hands off with fireworks, worse than blinding yourself with an eclipse, he imagined what it would feel like to be Toni if she took that punch, to be their kid when they took it.
Oh, so that’s what fear was actually like. That was how bottomless pain could be. What a time to learn it. What a time to be on the precipice of life. Charlie kicked the safety bar as soon as he could, rolled off the lift and hit the snow at the top of the trail. He slipped and crawled and ran and stumbled. Made it all the way to the upper bull wheel before the skier’s unstoppable walk caught up.
“What do you want?” Charlie asked the man, his voice just a tattered shred, soaked with internal bleeding, like a fallen soldier’s uniform hung out to dry. There was no answer. Normally people always had something on the tip of their tongue; you could see it in the way they held their jaw, their neck, their shoulders, that there was something they would say if they felt free enough to say it.
Not the skier. He was not a creature of words. He threw you around and got angrier every time you crashed into something and made a sound. He was like a few of the slashers in Red Summit movies, maybe most of all the government assassin from A-tax Dodger: IRS Revenge. Those guys had weaknesses though. As soon as you took off their masks you knew how pathetic they were. A murderer’s strength vanished when his motive was revealed as something that could never hold up in an honest conversation.
Charlie stood, whipped around, grabbed the skier’s helmet. He yanked with what strength he had left, but he was still wearing gloves. His hands slipped off. The skier hadn’t tried to stop him though, not even a flinch. It didn’t matter if Charlie saw. It didn’t matter what any of them did. They weren’t party to his purpose. The Bandles and their guests were just irritating snowmen, left by the people who never should’ve visited in the first place. They would be knocked over just as easily.
This particular snowman had some fight in him, probably because he didn’t have much to say beyond that. He liked falling apart, but only a little, enough to get the attention of someone who would come over and slap the missing chunk back on and pat it down again. He liked the affectionate pressure to his wounds that kept him together.
There was some pressure, right over there. The skier swung with a gloved fist, knocked teeth loose, but before Charlie could fall over the assailant was supporting him, dragging him over to the bull wheel. Its mechanical chug drowned everything else out, but the boy tried screaming anyway. All the volume he had left was barely a croak. Toni was a mountain away.
The skier lifted him off the snow and slammed him against the freezing metal of the wheel’s support post. Charlie tried again, hands slapping weakly at the man’s helmet, trying to wipe away the darkness and reveal what was underneath, but his blankly opposed aura didn’t even smear.
Something, resembling a good grip to Charlie’s adrenaline-flooded brain, formed. He tried to pull again, but the helmet only budged, like it was fused to the man’s cheeks. What a stupid thing to attempt; it had no chance of securing survival. It was like Charlie was trying to prove a point, one that he couldn’t even articulate. Performing the stage directions for last year’s production.
The skier pushed to counter his pull, sliding Charlie up the post. The cable passed inches over his nose, vibrating, growling almost. The assailant took a step to the right, and rotated Charlie right alongside. The boy grabbed the cable as it grabbed him, but he was no match for this machine either.
Able to step back now that the pressure was holding the kid up, the skier merely watched, his head following the circle as if he was looking for someone in particular on a Ferris wheel. The crushing force pulled Charlie all the way around the wheel, flipping him over a few times. Halfway around there were still a few drops of life to be squeezed out.
The bloody wire said its goodbyes and broke away to head back down the mountain, dropping the boy off unceremoniously. His midsection was shorn within his ripped coat, crimped and bent. Now that he wasn’t moving he looked like an old toy, the Chinese finger trap, his two halves held together only by artificial binding. His mouth was open in a final scream he hadn’t manged to assemble. It kept falling apart inside him every time the wire flipped him over.
The skier approached and kicked his lifeless body. The tip of his boot on the boy’s rapidly cooling neck elicited no response. He was halfway there; he just needed to get rid of the other three. Once they realized something was wrong they would squirrel themselves away inside the lodge. It would be even easier in there; there wouldn’t be as much pressure to perform perfectly.
The killer only looked away for a second, but that was all it took. Charlie was rolling downhill. The skier briefly started, moving to chase, but he stopped. No. The kid was deader than silent film. Deader than a waterlogged radio. Perhaps it was just one last twitch, his body’s unique urge to injure itself in order to bring healing attention.
The snow under the body went with it, and then the snow around it. The skier stood there next to the bull wheel, streaky pink snow streaming around his ankles, somehow sure it wouldn’t move him. He just watched as something like an avalanche poured down the slopes. It moved as quietly as a thing on that scale could, just the tail swish of a city-destroying radioactive dinosaur through the air.
Patches of ground that hadn’t felt fresh air in hundreds of years opened up. Some of the trees’ roots had grown haphazardly through snow and ice as stubborn as stone, and now hung out in the open like tangles of fried noodles.
As the snow pooled around the resort it grew redder, darker. At the center of the wound were three foreign bodies, splinters in need of extraction and snapping. The night skier was eager, impatient, but he had to wait. They were taking turns. Only when the snow had gone completely still once more did he raise a foot. The new trail was a straight shot, a much more welcoming runway than the craggy weed-infested one that had brought him close.
Those at the other end of the drop took the strange event differently. First there was confusion. Diamond heard it, the tail-swish, and knew only that Watermelon Peak had never made that sound before.
She’d heard concerts, helicopters, collapses, and everything the studio’s sound designers could come up with for space lasers and monster roars, but she’d never heard anything like that. The snow was moving. Not falling. Moving. Taking a fucked-up downhill stroll. She was frozen with the same shock of seeing a fresh wound and wondering why it hadn’t started bleeding yet.
Of course that shock was always followed by a second: how much blood such a wound could produce. She moved to avoid that next step, but she didn’t go as far as she wanted, looking down to see her red footprint smear and vanish. It was already moving under their feet. There was nothing to do but put something else under them.
Fidelia’s head was swallowed up. The chairs Percy had brought out were sinking, leaning back as if amazed at the sight of the mountain’s face slumping. Toni was squeaking, whimpering, as she danced back and forth to avoid the same fate. Diamond snatched her by the arm and practically dragged her.
They didn’t have to climb the few steps to the door; the rising waters had already consumed them. Once inside she, for a reason so insane that it must have cackled maniacally when it flew out of her head, locked the door. There wouldn’t be a single safe spot anywhere, but the observation area where they stood was the worst place of all. The entire wall was glass, and the snow was already pressing against the bottom, rising, reddening.
“It’s going-” Diamond started saying. She was going to say that it would crack at any moment, but it didn’t. The snow just rose. Reddened. It was kissing the glass, aggressively, deeply, unwanted, but trespassing no further. The door they’d just come through groaned, but didn’t buckle.
Toni didn’t see it; her face was buried in Diamond’s chest. She sobbed, asked the older woman’s sternum where Charlie was. He wasn’t out in that was he? He was on the lift, right? Diamond held the girl close. Surely they would perish… now… no now… get on with it! Now already!
Rose. Reddened. It got taller than them. All of the exterior lights were gone. There should have been debris mixed in, rocks, branches, food wrappers, but it was a featureless wall. Those things might’ve scratched the glass, and for some goddamn reason the mountain couldn’t have that.
Possibly rose. There was no telling now that the window-wall was completely overtaken. The monster’s tail-swish faded. Whatever it was, it was over. Now Toni was the loudest, and her cries grew all the more distressing now that she was asking better questions, ones surgically precise.
Had it surrounded them on all sides? Was there any chance Charlie and Drew were trapped out there, inches under the surface, freezing to death? Did they have to go back out there? Was that the only way to save their own lives? To save Charlie’s? Was it an avalanche? That was the only one she felt she could answer.
“No. No, that wasn’t an avalanche. That was something else.” She turned around, toward the bar, and saw Percy sitting on it, feet dangling, dripping into a mournful puddle. There was a severed head in his lap, its expression much more shocked than that of its doppelganger. It was just silicone. Rubber. Paint.
Percy knew she was dead now. He’d made the puddle in the process of knowing it, as if he’d spilled a glass full of his childhood soul. He made sure not to drop her in it, get her all wet. She deserved better.
The wall of crimson snow was not something he could comprehend just then, but he could see it when he looked up. Double Dee. Toni. And the red wall. The order of events got jumbled in his head. He shouldn’t have knocked over the snowman. All the red was its anger brought down on them. It had killed his sister: Princess Zua’knok’knok of Mars.
It had killed all her other characters as well in its cinematic genocide. Baby Lundry from Knock’em Dead, Full Gun Beauty. Concerned girl #3 from Benjamin Freaklin: Fearsome Founding Father. Editor Ibis from
Shakespeare Monkeys Gone Mad
Initially the people over at the animal talent agency had insisted five was the hard limit. They claimed they only had access to five. Jeffrey Bandle, nearing the height of his notoriety in the film-making world, knew they were full of shit. If he’d called them and said he was from Hollywood and that he was making an African epic they would furnish him with an army of the damn things, and probably train them to march too.
Red Summit’s big name was used as a threat though. Any time a fading actor refused to take a small role or something on television their agent would look at them sternly and say something along the lines of, ‘It’s either this or we start shopping you to Red Summit.’ Jeffrey was the movie boogeyman, which suited him just fine.
The shelf in his office was already so loaded with awards nobody had ever heard of that it had collapsed. He wanted to run with that, the idea that his success was so runaway that it was causing damage. Sorry you got hurt, but that’s showbiz. He’d paid a carpenter to rebuild the shelves, but at a slant, and to glue down all the awards so it looked like they were perpetually falling over.
People had to tilt their heads to read the inscriptions, and god did he love watching them circle the room, craning this way and that like a parrot figuring out how to attack a cluster of fused birdseed, and all that effort necessary just to navigate and understand his accomplishments.
So no, Clapboard Critters, your paltry five chimpanzees would not be adequate. The movie was called Shakespeare Monkeys Gone Mad, and they needed more than a barrel of monkeys to do all the going mad. They needed every ape and monkey pulled in for this job, no matter how many state lines they had to cross.
The next excuse they pulled was that it would be too cold for the animals up in the Rockies, but Jeffrey told them his costume department would knit each and every one of them a damn sweater if they had to. That was when the real reason came out. They didn’t want to rent the animals and trainers out to him because they were worried he would get something wrong.
They just assumed, because his studio was small and quirky and watched mostly at three A.M., that something would go terribly awry. They honestly thought they were going to have a pile of dead monkeys on their hands and not have any to hand out when a real studio came calling.
Technically Micah only ran the resort, not the studio, but he didn’t know it was part of his duties to allow Jeff to use his name however he saw fit. Sometimes if a supplier, like Clapboard Critters, was being difficult, he would mention that the whole show was actually run by a Native American, Mister Micah Long Friday thank you very much, and that if they did not agree to a deal it could be seen, by courts or at least various press outlets, as discrimination. The Friday name got the Bandles a grand total of twenty: ten chimpanzees, five capuchin monkeys, two squirrel monkeys, two gibbons, one white and one black, and an orangutan named Hot Wings.
The script was penned by frequent collaborator Jesse Louise Resigna, and she’d never delivered a dud, at least not by Red Summit standards, which meant that all the movies she had contributed to had turned a profit around four years after release. Jeffrey couldn’t stand that it was her idea to set one in a studio, since they already had all the equipment that could act as props. It was brilliant to be sure, but he should’ve thought of it himself.
Shakespeare Monkeys Gone Mad was going to be a darker, more cerebral film. People expected popped heads and disembowelments from the Bandle operation, and they would have them, but this time a couple would be shot in black and white and only Resigna would ever fully understand what was being depicted on the screen. She would eventually share conflicting interpretations on two different tracks of DVD commentary, but Bandle didn’t care as long as he could get the chimps to hold up signs with the end credits written on them.
He hadn’t read the script, just the pitch. Resigna had said she wanted to bring the old adage to life: If you stick a thousand chimps in a room with a thousand typewriters for an endless amount of time they will eventually produce Shakespeare. So, their main character was going to attempt it, and he was going to succeed.
Just like the Bandles, this writer had access to a studio space and an entirely inappropriate number of trained monkeys. Under the assumption he had gone mad long ago, he goes ahead and confines the creatures to a writer’s room, and is shocked to discover that out came a brilliant script. The movie gets made, an unrivaled success. The chimps delivered, again and again, with their handler taking credit every time.
But of course the animals eventually tire, partly grasping intellect through their writing efforts. They break free in a climactic surge of oddball violence, leaping on hapless film crews and rending them limb from limb, beating them to death with boom mics, strangling them with film, and so on.
One of Resigna’s readings of her own work cast the apes as screenwriters denied a union and tolerable working conditions. Perhaps it was a dig at Bandle himself, an attempt to gauge his intelligence to see if he could see the subtext, but she had misread the man herself. Even if he had seen it he wouldn’t have cared.
As long as she delivered, just like a certain hooting hairy creature. People insulting him was just more power donated to him, delivered ablaze, attached to a brick, and through the window, but he could blow it out and wipe the soot onto his shirt with just minimal effort. Every word written about him, even indirectly, was more real estate in the public mind that belonged to him.
The only problem was that the Shakespeare monkeys had gone mad ahead of schedule. One of the film crew had brought food on set, what they later found out was smoked salmon on cream cheese bagels, that set the chimps off. It was a freak incident, as none of them had ever encountered precisely that smell before. A few of them went looking for it, then a few others got confused and wandered off, and then there were some interspecies altercations.
The company had only sent over six handlers for all the animals, so everyone there needed to be recruited to help wrangle them. Jeffrey was adamant that anybody who called animal control would be fired. If word of such a call reached the general public, that there was a problem with shit-flinging monkeys in the resort where they most definitely served gourmet food, it would be their job first and then the rest of their life.
Diamond, Fidelia, and Percy were not exempt. While the latter two chased squirrel monkeys that were twisting and eating all the lipstick in the makeup department, Diamond and her father were back in the ski rental area, following a shredded paper trail.
The eldest Bandle child was twenty-three, and just starting to appreciate how much last minute maneuvering was involved in her father’s film studio. When she was younger she had always seen him as driven, forceful, and intelligent. Now, as he puttered around and bent over in search of scraps to toss in the plastic bathroom wastebasket held by the lip in his left hand, she thought a little less of him.
He was clearly walking a tightrope at all hours, some major self-inflicted expense hanging over his head, as if he needed an ever-present threat to work properly. Their mother was technically head of the studio, but that just meant she ran all the boring aspects of the business: recurring expenses, employee insurance, visits from potential investors and such.
Jeffrey handled acquiring all the actors, effects, and scripts. In a way he shadow-directed most of the pictures, even though he only had a directing credit on a handful of them. Sometimes a director, who more often than not was there simply for a job, would open their script, after leaving it unattended in their chair for maybe five minutes, and find a scrawled note in the margins.
New dialogue. A different cue. A different lighting setup. Whatever it was they were contractually obligated to do it. None of them could ever remember signing another contract that had used the word ‘whim’, or used it so freely. The notes were always written in red ink, because Jeffrey felt it was very on-brand for the king of the bloody mountain.
The fountain pen with the custom crimson ink usually sat in his private office, separate from the one where he kept all his tilting awards, and nobody was allowed in there. That’s where all the evidence is, Diamond was just realizing at that very moment as she watched him pull a crumpled dusty note out from under the rental counter and stare at it like a goblin who’d just mined out a pointless ruby covered in some truly exquisite soil.
Every lie he told to get something for one of the movies was on a receipt in one of those office drawers. Every bit of manipulation and badgering was kept on a legal pad log away from prying eyes. A simple rule kept all the humans from opening the door, but it had no effect on the bored chimps he’d invited to supper.
They’d let themselves in, opened all the drawers, sampled the various kinds of papers and found them to be lousy eating but excellent throwing. At least one of them had gone on a tear, ripping a full drawer out of a filing cabinet and dragging it through the rental area, tossing handfuls into the air and watching them flutter back down.
Her father had a reason for everything, so why did he pick her out to come and assist him in the gathering of what might very well be incriminating evidence? The answer was obvious in the choice itself. He thought she would go along with it. She was his diamond, his crowning jewel, and when they pried his cold dead hands off a VHS after his inevitable coronary she would inherit the skis to the kingdom.
Sooner or later she would need to know exactly what it took to get movies made without the help of Hollywood. Better for her to get a taste of it now, as something glanced on a scrap of paper, with them too busy chasing a runaway ape to slow down and talk about it.
He snickered as he pulled a cocktail napkin, which had a signed dotted line drawn on it, off of a decorative rafter and hopped down with a thump. She was looking at Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up, except his body hadn’t gotten the message. His shadow was alive, but he needed more shadows for the expanding gut on his middle-aged frame, so he stole them from wherever he could, locked them up in a desk drawer, and now they were looking for them in every little hiding spot. That was really what shadow director meant, she told herself with a biting internal snort of a laugh.
Dr. Morbisha was still a dark glint in his eye years down the line, but she was starting to see those glints now. She’d even caught herself looking in the mirror, trying to see such things in her own eyes. Director Diamond did have a certain ring to it, like someone flicking an unbreakable wineglass.
“Do you think if we get audited I can say a monkey ate my homework?” he asked from ahead of her with another snicker.
“Well if you open with that Dad they’ll at least know who they’re dealing with.” He laughed so loud that it might’ve scared their quarry further into the recesses of the resort.
“This one’s a hit Deedee. I can tell already. Charlton Heston never had this many onscreen with him, I’ll tell you that.”
“I don’t know.” He twisted back, just for a glance, but then kept stalking forward, surveying the carpet like a heron searching for frogs.
“What do you mean you don’t know? People go bananas for monkeys. It’s in our DNA, literally I think. You kids wore out that one tape when you were around thirteen, the one where the gorilla is a race car driver.”
“Go Go Gorilla.”
“That’s the one. Damn I wish I’d made that one. I know a guy who could’ve gotten us a couple monster trucks. Hey, maybe that’s the sequel. I’ll look into the rights, might be dirt cheap since nobody made any others.”
“That was a kids’ movie,” Diamond explained. “There’s literally a scene where the gorilla throws a banana peel out the window and it makes the guy in second place crash. We’re not making a comedy, and Mr. Heston’s movies had a lot more action scenes than ours will. We’re making something more like… a lobotomized Hitchcock movie.”
“Lobotomized! We’re on a tight budget, don’t go throwing around three dollar words like that. Lobotomized… Do you think so little of our pictures Deedee?”
“I’m not insulting them Dad; it’s just the truth. We don’t make serious movies, but we don’t make comedies either. That leaves dumb. We make dumb movies, but sometimes that’s what people want. You watch them alone when you have insomnia and you never tell anybody you did. They’re the movies that are there for you when you’re just being your weird self.”
“I see what you mean. You’re right. We make movies for people, not movies for crowds. If we could just…” Diamond looked over to see why he stalled and found him staring up at the ceiling. The smallest chimp in the bunch was perched in a corner of the rafters, holding her own knees, papers crumpled between them and her hands. Her soulful brown eyes looked bored, and mildly concerned.
“Hello miss,” Diamond cooed, putting herself directly under the animal. “Might we escort you back to your family?” The ape looked away, pursed her lips.
“Oooh, the cold shoulder,” her father chuckled. “Good thing we don’t need her permission. Here, step up and snag her.” He braced himself against the wall and put his hands together over his bent knee to create a stepladder.
“You don’t think she’s going to bite me or anything do you?”
“So what if she does? Monkeys aren’t poisonous. You’re the toughest material on Earth Deedee; you can handle it. Come on, we’re losing shooting hours. If it bugs her so much she can complain to her union rep.”
Diamond did as she was told, careful to keep her ample chest from smacking him in the face on her way up. When she was in reach she paused to make sure the ape wasn’t baring her teeth. One of the handlers had said that was a sign of aggression, even if it looked like a smile. The animal was still ignoring her, staring out a thin window on the opposite side of the hall. Perhaps she’d never seen snow before that day.
There was no protest when she wrapped her arms around the animal’s furry back, or when Diamond gently slid her forward. It looked like they had everything under control until she stepped off her father’s knee. Suddenly the chimp squirmed, slipped out of her grip, and took off further down the hall, toward one of the exits out to the communal area at the foot of the slopes.
All Diamond held onto was one of the papers the animal had been clutching. She un-crumpled it to see what her consolation prize was, surprised to find her own name written at the top, not in red, but black, perhaps for plausible deniability:
Diamond’s to-do list
“Dad? What the fuck is this?” Diamond grabbed his shoulder to stop him from going after the sleuthing chimp that had managed to pull out the worst possible document on her rampage. She flipped the scrap of yellow lined paper around for him to see. He squinted, but couldn’t keep up the charade of not knowing what it was, not in front of that particular daughter of his anyway.
“I was going to talk to you about that,” he started, already striking a tone like he was opening a business meeting. She felt like she was about to hear him ask for the minutes from the last meeting. “Obviously you’re under no obligation to do anything, but I thought maybe we could start treating you as more of an asset to Red Summit, really use your talents.”
“What talents would those be? My left and my right?”
“Deedee, be logical. You grew up to be a beautiful woman, and that’s valuable. I have to poke and prod people all the time to convince them to work with us… you could just let them poke you. It’s fast, it’s simple, it’s a tactic as old as tailbones.”
“So you want me to get free stuff for the studio by sleeping with… Michael Tails? Who the hell even is Michael Tails?”
“Oh he’s fantastic; you’ll love him.” He coughed when he realized his poor phrasing. “Michael works for one of the big rental chains. If we were in the theater business he would own the real estate. Two words: prominent shelving. He could be the key to doubling our viewership.”
“And I’m the lock, got it,” Diamond fumed. “Scott’s sister is on here? Do you think I’m gay Dad?”
“Hedging my bets is all,” he said, holding his palms up as if he was about to be unfairly splashed with boiling water. “You’ve never had a serious boyfriend, and Michelle has just as much control over the company that rents us all that army surplus stuff as Scott does.”
“Carpini? Really? You’re fucking kidding me. I’d sooner sleep with the thing from It Came from Beneath the Escalator than with him. I’d rather kill myself.”
“I just wrote him down as part of the exercise; I wasn’t serious about him… just establishing one end of the possible spectrum.”
“Now don’t pretend you’re not sweet on Micah,” he interrupted, holding up an offensive finger. “You and him are thick as thieves, and frankly, as far as you ever wanting the husband I know you don’t need, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Micah.”
“And I’m sure giving him a quick fuck will get him to betray the will of his tribe, who will all bow peacefully at the foot of your mountain, and you can shower them with popcorn, posters, and free tickets as we hu-”
“You’re upset, I get it. It’s not the sort of thing a man should write down regarding his own daughter. These were never going to be anything more than suggestions Deedee. I wanted to know how far you’d go to keep the dream going. I never would’ve asked you to do anything I wouldn’t have done, circumstances allowing.” They heard a crash from the direction they’d come. There were still plenty of Shakespeare monkeys going mad, and time was still money.
“I’ll get her,” Diamond seethed like a pot about to blow its lid. “You get your papers.” She left him before he could respond, heading in the chimp’s direction, trying to not let each step look and sound like the angriest step she’d ever taken. She also needed to keep the stomping to a minimum so she could hear if he was attempting to follow, which she quickly realized he wasn’t.
Her mind pushed him back, focused on the task at hand. This chimp was practically a lifesaver; she deserved Diamond’s full attention. Without the ape’s help there was no telling when he would have sprung this on her. Actually, now that she thought about it, there was telling.
Jeffrey Bandle only did things at the most opportune moment. It’s not a victory if you’re not snatching it from the jaws of defeat; then it’s just a chore. He would’ve waited until all the necessary pieces were in place, in plain sight. He would claim it was a plan he just came up with in that exact moment even though he’d readied the fuse and simply waited for something to light it.
In her mind she pictured a wrap party. They’d just finished shooting something, probably something from their upcoming slate like Eight Claws of Octalon or Hillbilly Yeti. Everybody would have at least two drinks in them. The parties were always in the resort to save money, so her father would exert jukebox privileges and put his daughter’s favorite song on.
Then he would appear beside her at the bar like a symptom, the first tickle that tells someone they’re going to have a hangover the next day. Then he would say some things: everyone was having so much fun, wasn’t it great that everyone was having so much fun, and hey isn’t that Michelle over there? She looks like she’s having the most fun of all. You should go talk to her. See if you can grease the wheels. I want to rent a helicopter for our next shoot. One of those big ones with two rotors.
“I don’t think you want to go out there,” Diamond told the chimpanzee. She was just ahead, stood up, with her hand on the undoubtedly cold knob leading outside. If the animal disappeared into the forest that would not be good for anyone, Diamond especially given that she was the closest.
Even without knowing how to read the creature’s expressions she sensed hesitation, but ultimately the chimp decided she was done with this place. Done with the bullshit. The eldest Bandle child could hardly blame her. The animal had opened plenty of doors in her training and career, and this one was no different. She wrenched it open and barreled outside on all fours, Diamond running down the rest of the corridor to chase after her, but she stopped in the door frame.
The animal only made it about twenty feet before stopping. She looked as if her feet and hands were frozen in place, but her head whipped around left and right. She twisted and looked back at her trail, where all the snow she’d upset had turned violently red.
“You don’t belong out there,” Diamond said softly, but surely loud enough that those big floppy ears could hear. She held out her hand, beckoned the animal back inside. “Come on little lady.” She stood up in response, held her hairy hands together in a distinctly un-chimpanzee fashion, like she was nervous she’d just tracked mud into someone’s home.
Finally she turned around and started waddling back, stopping to look at the whiter snow to the left and right of her trail every few moments. Diamond could see that she was being careful not to tread anywhere she hadn’t already done so. What a strange thing for her to do. The human wondered if it was possible for more intelligent animals to have superstitions, as the one before her suddenly looked like a child cautiously avoiding sidewalk cracks so they wouldn’t break their mother’s back.
A hundred nervous glances later, she was at the threshold, and she knew it too, for she dropped back to all fours and bounded inside in a flash, leaping into Diamond’s outstretched arms. She hadn’t been out there long enough to get too cold, but she was shivering. One floppy ear got in Diamond’s mouth as she buried her head in the human’s chest.
“It’s okay. You’re okay. Nobody’s going to hurt you. It’s just a movie. We’re not going to lock you up and actually make you write screenplays.” Diamond checked the red trail she’d left as well. Looked like chimps hated snow. Or maybe she thought she was wounded and trailing blood. Either way, Diamond closed the door and took her back to her handlers, blowing right by her father and his overflowing wastebasket without saying a word.