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The vampire, whose fangs were too big for his mouth, turned to the camera and hissed.
"Don't look at the camera," said Justin Hollow, the director.
"I keep poking my lip on these things," said Harold, and he spit the plastic fangs out onto the ground. He hadn't been a very frightening example of the undead before, and he was even less scary with no fangs and a thick line of drool running down his chin.
"Cut!" shouted Justin, loud enough to be sure that the command was heard by his production crew of two. "C'mon, Harold. Stay in character. We're three hours behind schedule."
"I don't care. I hate this. You promised that I'd get all the girls I wanted. So where are all the girls I want?"
Justin let out his thirty-ninth exasperated sigh of the night. "The movie has to come out first."
"It's not even a real movie."
Justin bristled. It was a full-body bristle, head to toe, which he hadn't even realized was physically possible. Bobby, who handled sound recording, and Gabe, who handled everything else, both stepped back a couple of feet. Neither of them truly believed that they were about to witness a murder, but they wanted to get out of the splash zone just in case.
Had this been one of Justin's movies, he would have very slowly lowered his camera, stared directly into Harold's eyes with a steely gaze, and then after an extremely dramatic pause, asked, "What...did...you...just...say?"
His actual response, delivered in a squeakier voice than he would have allowed from his actors, was, "Huh?"
"I said it's not a real movie." Harold started to wipe the fake blood off his mouth. It didn't come off, and it probably wouldn't for several days. Justin had planned to feel guilty about this later, but now he wouldn't bother. "Nobody's ever going to see it. You probably won't even finish it."
"I finished my last three movies!" Justin insisted. "I got hundreds of hits on YouTube!"
That statement was technically accurate, though it was the lowest possible number of hits you could get and still use "hundred" in its plural form. The only comment anybody posted about his latest film had been, "This twelve-year-old filmmaker sort of shows promise," which really frustrated Justin because he was fifteen.
Harold shrugged. "This is a waste of time. I've got better things to do on a Friday night."
"Nobody ever said this was going to be easy," said Justin, who had indeed said that it was going to be easy when he had lured Harold into the role. "You can quit now, but what are you going to think about your decision ten years from now?"
"I'm going to think, ‘Wow, it sure is nice to be such a well-paid dentist.'"
Harold walked off the set. It wasn't an actual set but rather a small park near Justin's home, where they were filming without a permit. Justin knew he should shout something after his ex-actor. Something vicious. Something devastating. He thought about shouting, "You'll never work in this town again!" but no, it had to be something that Harold would consider a bad thing.
"Fine!" Justin shouted. "But when we record the audio commentary track for the Blu-ray, I'm going to talk about how you abandoned us, and how much happier everybody was with the new actor who took your role, and how we all agreed that he should have been cast in the first place, and how he had so many girlfriends that he couldn't even keep track of them, and how they all found out about one another and had a great big awesome catfight in his front yard! And I'll pronounce your name wrong!"
Harold continued walking, apparently not heartbroken.
Justin wished he could afford a second camera so that he could smash this one in a rage. An entire evening's worth of shooting, wasted!
"Maybe this is for the best," said Gabe. "We all know he was miscast."
"You're the one who cast him," said Bobby.
"Just so we could use his swimming pool."
"We lost the swimming pool!" Justin wailed. "That's our climax!"
"We can write around this," said Gabe. He stroked his mustache, which could only be seen in direct sunlight, and thought for a moment. "What if the vampire can transform at will? We could get a different actor and still keep all of Harold's scenes. In fact, we could get lots of different actors. We could just replace that person every time somebody quit. A different vampire in each scene! Think about it!"
Justin shook his head. "That won't scare audiences."
"What do you mean? If you were sitting next to somebody, and all of a sudden they turned into a completely different person, you'd freak out! You'd be all like, ‘Whoa! What happened? That's not how nature works!' If you transformed into Bobby right now, I wouldn't even try to be brave about it. I'd just wet myself and run."
"Can I lower the boom mic now?" asked Bobby.
Justin nodded at Bobby and then shook his head at Gabe. "There's no sense of menace if the vampire is played by eighteen different people."
"Harold had no menace. He could be strangling a koala bear and he wouldn't seem menacing."
"Then why didn't you say something sooner?"
"I did. That one time. And then that other one time. When he tripped during the first take, I said it three different times."
Justin sighed. It was a resigned sigh rather than an exasperated one, so it wasn't part of the official tally. "You're right. You're always right. Let's call it quits for the night and go to Monkey Burger."
• • •
Justin held up his cell phone so his mom could clearly see the Monkey Burger logo behind him. Thanks to technology, he could never get away with being someplace he wasn't supposed to be. He hoped that someday this would be inconvenient. He would say, "Oh no! My mom is calling, and I'm at a girl-filled party instead of the library!" But thus far it was merely a disappointing reminder that he never really got into trouble.
"Okay," Mom said. "Have fun!"
Justin assured her that he would and then disconnected the call. He, Gabe, and Bobby went inside the restaurant, which smelled of neither monkeys nor burgers but rather had an aroma sort of like pickles mixed with feet. They went there because it was cheap, close, and open late on weekends, though Justin suspected that the food had been scavenged from the Dumpsters of other restaurants.
They got a large order of chili cheese fries to share and three cups of water. Then they sat down at a booth. Bobby, who had a great appreciation for the act of eating, grabbed the biggest fry off the top and popped it into his mouth.
"Our movies suck," said Justin.
Gabe frowned. He was tall and gawky. He had a permanent cowlick no matter how short he cut his hair, and he looked like he should wear glasses even though his vision was perfectly fine. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, they're awful. We all know it."
"I think you're..." Gabe trailed off and then shrugged. "Okay, you're right. So what do you propose we do?"
"Make a movie that doesn't suck."
"Hey, guys," said Bobby. "These fries are like pressing a lava stick against your tongue, so be careful."
"We're getting better," Gabe insisted. "Mummy Pit sucked less than Werewolf Night, which sucked less than Ghost Barn."
"That's not good enough." Justin picked up one of the fries. The potatoes might have been real, but no actual cow had been involved with the chili or the cheese. In fact, the only resemblance to actual chili and cheese were their colors, brown and yellow(ish) respectively.
"Vampire Tree was off to a decent start though," Gabe insisted.
"No, it wasn't."
"That scene with the undead scorpion would've been cool after we added some CGI."
"No, it wouldn't have." Justin ate the fry, which not only failed to burn his mouth but also had somehow already dropped below room temperature. "I don't want to make terrible movies anymore. I want them to be big. I want them to be important. I want them to be longer than ten minutes."
"All right," said Gabe.
"We should change our filmmaking process," said Justin. "We should write a script first."
"I thought you always said that following a script would restrict your creativity on the set and that the best ideas are those that filmmakers generate on the spot."
"I've said a lot of things over the years," said Justin. "This time we need a script. We don't have to stick to it word for word, but we should have one."
"Is there a blister on my tongue?" asked Bobby, sticking out his tongue. "I can't tell if it's a blister or just a piece of fry." Justin and Gabe couldn't understand what he was saying, since his tongue was sticking out, but they'd known him long enough to get the general idea.
"It's a piece of fry," said Justin.
"It won't come off. Why won't it come off?"
"Okay, fine," said Gabe. "We'll have a script."
"And a budget."
"You can't make the greatest movie ever without a budget," Justin told him.
"Now we're making the greatest movie ever? I thought we were just making one that didn't suck."
"Do you know how old George Romero was when he made Night of the Living Dead?"
"Right. So we've got a while to catch up. That example didn't really make the point I was trying to make. What I'm saying is that we should be ahead of the curve. We should be making movies that people can't believe were made by fifteen-year-olds. I want people to be stunned at what we're making. I want people to accuse us of being genetically enhanced."
"I'm all in favor of that," said Gabe. "I just feel like we should set our sights a little lower. We keep saying we want to make a zombie movie. Maybe instead of the greatest movie ever, we make the greatest zombie movie ever."
"The greatest zombie movie ever would, by definition, also be the greatest movie ever."
"Zombie movie. Good choice, Gabe. And we're going to commit ourselves to this project. No safety net. No excuses not to finish. Nobody is going to say this isn't a real movie."
"I really can't get this fry off my tongue," said Bobby. "The cheese is like superglue."
Gabe ignored Bobby and shrugged at Justin. "Okay. So if we're doing a real movie, how do you propose we raise the money?"
Justin stared into Gabe's eyes with a steely gaze, and then after a dramatic pause, he said, "Any...way...we...can."
"I don't know. Crowdfunding. A bake sale. Insurance fraud. We'll worry about that later."
"I think we should worry about it a little bit now."
"I'm in an ambitious mood. Don't bother me with reality." Justin picked up a fry and dipped it into the runniest patch of chili. "We can do this. We can make a three-hour epic that will revolutionize the film industry."
"How about we make half an epic and go for ninety minutes?"
"Actually we should let the story decide for itself how long it needs to be." Justin ate the fry. "Are you in?"
"I don't like that you're giving the story a consciousness of its own."
"Are you in?" Justin pressed.
"I'm in," said Bobby.
"I'm going to Indiana for the summer, remember? The day after school gets out."
"Okay, so that gives us a month. We can do it. Are you in?"
"Are you in?"
"You're also deranged."
"But are you in?"
"You're insane, deranged, and scary."
"So you're in?"
As he had many times during their ten years of friendship, Gabe looked resigned to his fate. "Yeah, I'm in."
Bobby seemed to notice something behind Justin. He smiled. It was a wicked smile, the kind of smile a guy gets when the thoughts in his brain are nothing but the purest evil.
"What?" Justin asked, Bobby's evil aura making him suddenly uncomfortable.
"I know who we should cast in the lead."
Bobby pointed to a booth at the other end of the restaurant. "Alicia Howtz."