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by Scott Jessop

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3


Weeks past without any sign of my “friend,” and the long film for the tourism board kept me busy breaking down takes and, on occasion, even doing a little cutting. When I entered the business, I thought I would gravitate toward shooting, but instead I found my vocation in the editing room.

I enjoyed shaping the story with strips of film in ways unimagined by the writer or the director. I could improve a bad performance by the actors, shape the telling of scenes, and cover the mistakes made on set. The time spent in the lonely room, with its dim light, passed without need of sleep or water or conversation. At times, I lost track of the hours only to realize the sun had come up again, and my stomach was empty.

I missed Clara and felt bad for my outburst. Truth is, all filmmakers, whether they admit it or not, have Hollywood dreams. That’s our Detroit. Our Vatican. Our Wall Street. It’s the big leagues, and I couldn’t fault Clara for wanting something we all wanted.

I was in the back room looking through reels for a bit of film I needed for a sequence when I felt another person’s presence. I smiled and inhaled deeply knowing Clara had returned. Instead of the scent of her long-gone perfume, I caught the odor of Old Spice, and then the cold touch of a steel blade at my neck.

“Get up,” said a deep voice.

The man stepped back, and I saw that he was with another who was tall, thin, and flaunting a gun before my face. The man with the knife clutched the small box where we kept the petty cash but that wasn’t what he wanted.

“I’ll bet this place has a lot of expensive cameras,” he said.

I raised my hands. “What of it?”

“Show us where they are.”

A cold draft went up my spine. I wanted to swallow but there was no spit in my mouth. “I don’t think so. You guys need to leave.”

“Not until you give us the cameras.”

“They’re locked in a room, and I don’t have the key.”

“Like hell,” said the man with the knife.

“You show us,” said the tall man.

I fidgeted trying to figure out if I could run past them and out the door. Even if I could, the tall man would shoot me down.

“Show us,” the tall man repeated.

The man with the knife set the petty cash box down on my chair and shook his head. “Damn,” he said.

The tall man lowered his gun. I was thinking this might be my chance. “What is it, Rick?”

“He’s seen our faces,” said Rick. “And now, thanks to you, dumbass, he knows my name.”

The tall man raised the gun and pointed at me. “Too bad for you.” Suddenly he jumped and glanced over his shoulder. “Someone touched me.”

“Relax, we’re alone,” said Rick .

The tall guy was jittery. “No, Rick, I felt a hand on my shoulder.”

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I could see both men stiffen.

“Call your friend,” said Rick jabbing his knife at me.

“Okay,” I said. The room grew colder and I felt a draft. “Clara, show yourself.”

My foot depressed the pedal on the editor and it filled the room with a gray flickering light. A freezing wind whipped through our hair. The old wood in the building moaned and popped.

The man with the gun thrust it at me. “Stop it. Shut it off.”

“You wanted to see my friend,” I said.

Rick looked up at the ceiling and gasped. Projected was a distorted image of Clara, her smile replaced with a scowl and her sharp eyes black holes in the center of a dripping death mask. Her shoulders raised and her chest thrust out as her gaze moved to the two men.

The man with the gun stumbled into the table knocking the lid off the “Romantic Cowboy,” spilling the silver nitrate film. He pointed the gun at me.

“Stop it,” he yelled. “Or I’ll fire.”

My heart was beating too hard to let me reply. Guns and knives be damned, I desperately wanted to run out of the room. It had grown so cold I could see my breath and, as the horrible image on the ceiling fell, I screamed.

The specter flew around the room over our shoulders and between our legs. I grew up in Northern Minnesota, where a blast of subzero wind would slap your cheeks, but I didn’t know violent cold until Clara tossed the room.

The one called Rick slashed the air with his knife, and backed into this companion pinning him against the table. The tall man raised the gun and pointed it at me. His hard look and tight lips prepared me for the shot to follow.

Clara knocked me to the floor as she ignited the film on the table, the explosion engulfing the tall man in flame. Rick was blown against the wall. Shrapnel from the steel film canister riddled his face. tearing it to shreds.

When the police came, I told them the man with the gun had been smoking. I had tried to warn him about the dangers of silver nitrate film stock, but he didn’t listen.

* * *

That was thirty-six years ago. I left the company a few years later and took a job with Katherine Kyles, the famed wilderness documentarian. My editing on her film about wild horses caught the eye of a TV producer, and I worked my way up as assistant editor on several programs, then as head editor, and then feature films.

Of course, everything is digital now, and my clients ask about the ancient 16mm upright editor in my office lobby. They ask about the film on its reels. I tell them it is casting footage from the silent film days. Nitrocellulose stock, I’ll say. Please don’t smoke.

I just finished a science fiction film for Paramount. The big tent-pole picture of the summer, and it promises to be a major hit. You know the story from the comic books, the time-traveling alien who moves through Earth’s history righting wrongs. Silly plot I know, but I love geeky, action movies.

As the character moves in time, scenes from history waft through his time machine and I used stock footage from Nine-Eleven, Vietnam, World War II, et cetera. That’s why I’m telling you this. So you’ll know what to look for. As the time traveler passes through pre-war America, you’ll see a scene of a young woman on a bike. She looks at the camera and smiles. It’s a smile that will melt your heart.

The Hollywood big-picture debut of Clara Duncan.

Copyright © 2016 by Scott Jessop

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