Category Archives: Fiction

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The Failure Tactic
Part Two

by Steven Axelrod

Will ambition kickstart his movie career or kill his marriage? 2,292 words. Part One. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


“So, yeah, this is risky. But life goes fast, Emma. We’re both starting to realize that. In two years we’ll be invited to our fifteen-year high school reunions and the next fifteen years will fly by. I want to have fun making films.”

“No, I think you want to feel like an important filmmaker. You want to drive some German sports car around Beverly Hills and sit by the swimming pool with movie stars and get the cool table at Craig’s. You want to read about yourself in Variety. You want to be respected by people you hate. Fine. But there’s no way to get that stuff unless you gamble with both of our lives. You can’t spin it, Mike. Paramount is safe, that’s a fact. You have friends there. If something happens, they’ll find you a job somewhere else. You’re always telling me that getting fired is the best way to get a promotion by moving from studio to studio. It’s a club and you’re finally a member. If you turn your back on that, they’ll be rooting for you to fail. And when it happens, you’ll be tainted goods. Is that what you want?”

Mike spoke very slowly into the burning silence of her stare. “I am not going to fail.”

“Really? So then tell me: when have you ever succeeded?”

“That’s not fair.”

“My life is at stake. So, sorry, fair doesn’t matter to me right now. What matters is making you see the truth before it’s too late.”

Mike rummaged helplessly for something to say back to Emma. It seemed that all the words had been used up. There were just three left.

“I want this.”

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The Failure Tactic
Part One

by Steven Axelrod

Every movie career has ups and downs. But every marriage has a breaking point. 1,924 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jim pushed his glass aside and leaned forward.

“Let me tell you what’s really going on,” he said. “Bill Terhune has a deal going.”

“Bill Terhune always has a deal going,” Mike replied. “He probably had deals going in kindergarten – ‘You cover for me during nap time and you can have my cookie at snack.’”

“This is real."

“So was that. Not to mention the black market Lincoln logs. And the crayon exchange. Apparently he had the only sharpener.”

Jim had to laugh. “I mean it, Mike, this is serious. He found someone with money.”

It was the one sentence guaranteed to knock the smile off Mike’s face and silence him. This was what everyone was looking for, the seam of gold in the mountains, the genie in the battered lamp, the copy of the Declaration of Independence on the garage sale table: someone with money to make movies.

“Who is it?”

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White Out

by Morgan Hobbs

Temping in Hollywood can be boring or blissful or even brilliant. 2,886 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“It’s an insurance company,” she said, idly swiveling in the black leather manager chair with the receiver cradled against her shoulder. “Yeah, Culver City. It’s in the movie business but as borderline as you can get. It’s all they had for me this week. I got bills to pay, babe.”

She looked up, startled to see a man standing over her desk. “Gotta go,” she said, hanging up the phone.

“Hi, I’m Brad,” he said, beaming down at her.

She straightened up. “I’m Sara from the temp agency,” she replied, “filling in for Todd Pierce’s secretary while she’s on maternity leave.”

Sara gave Brad a quick once-over: tan skin, angular jawline, aristocratic nose, blue eyes and blond hair. His perfect teeth glistened through a radiant smile.

“Welcome to Fortress Insurance.” Brad said and started to leave, then stopped. “By the way, how you were holding the phone,” he cocked his head to the side, “you’ll get a crick in your neck. Use the headset.

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The Spider Pool
Part Four

by Michael Larrain

Is it a case of mistaken identity or masterful acting? 2,153 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


"I’ve solved the case."
In the name of showmanship, I had come through
the tunnel and into the house from the wine cellar,
though without any wine. Jade barely lost her composure,
greeting me as though I’d been expected. "I was wondering
how long it would take you to find the other end,"
she said. "Have you made any progress?"
She sounded genuinely hopeful.
"Yes. I even know who moved the body.
We should have champagne to celebrate."
I went to the fridge, lifted the metal cap off the half-filled
bottle of Taittinger, made a point of noticing that
that no pressure was released, and said,
"What do you know? It’s flat. Those things usually work so well."
"Well, tell me. That’s what I’m paying you for, isn’t it?
It wasn’t a superintendent of police, was it?
That would be too much to ask for."
"No," I said, taking a hit off the bottle. Only
private eyes can enjoy flat champagne. "It was you."
"Me?" Her eyes opened, but only by a fraction, with mild
indignation mingled with anticipation. "Why would I
move her, and where would I move her from?
Are you saying I killed her?" "Oh, no. That wouldn’t
line up with 1957. In fact, symmetry with the events
at The Spider Pool may be the only reason you took
the trouble to move her at all, since you only
moved her from the jacuzzi to the pool."
She smiled, indulgently. "Our screenplay
appears to have gone off the rails," she said.

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The Spider Pool
Part Three

by Michael Larrain

Clues start coming together for the P.I. and his film actress client. Prose poem. 2,084 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Jade had walked me to my door the night before,
and draped one of the plumeria leis around my neck
before kissing me goodnight on the cheek.
Her breath smelled of apples, and in her eyes,
when she looked at me in close-up,
an irreconcilable cocktail of mischief and injury glimmered.
Who was she, I wondered, when she wasn’t busy being someone else?
So I climbed out of bed and into my ragtop woody
to stop at the "Made In The Shade"
nursing home in Sherman Oaks where Maggie Amberson
was playing out her string. My timing turned out to be good.
Carrying a box of profiteroles from John Kelly, a confectionary
in Santa Monica, I found her in a reasonably cozy room,
lying abed watching an early Jade Bellinger movie
streaming on Netflix. It had been her first starring role
and offered the pleasure of seeing a good actress
caught in the act of becoming great. She played
a high school teacher accused of having an affair
with one of her students. Somehow, she made this piffle believable,
walking multiple tightropes without ever missing a step.
A nurse nearly Maggie’s age, her name tag identifying her as "Millicent,"
shuffled in balancing a tray of lime jello, a scoop of mashed potatoes
and what appeared to be a cube of meatloaf with carrots and
peas around it segregated into their own little compartments.
She paused on her way out to glance up at the screen and mutter,
"She ain’t no Kate Hepburn, but she’ll do." I felt bad for her,
stuck in a deadly dull job where nothing new would ever
happen, unless you counted the patients passing away.
She didn’t even have the comfort of a glamorous past to look back on.

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The Spider Pool
Part Two

by Michael Larrain

The film actress assists the P.I. in uncovering his father’s police past. Prose Poem. 2,257 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


I found a stack of yellowing index cards.
On them, in scrawled handwriting I knew well from long-ago
Christmas and birthday cards, were my father’s case
notes about that night at The Spider Pool in 1957.
In pencil, he had created a maze of scribbles, cross-outs,
arrows, diagrams, rewrites, question marks, underlinings,
erasures, names I recognized and names that meant nothing to me.
I laid the cards out in what I thought was chronological order.
Once I had a handle on his system, I was able to follow his surmises.
At first, he had thought the girl’s secret sugar, Harold Lloyd himself,
to be the killer. But a number of witnesses had testified
to his presence at The Spider Pool when the girl’s life ended
in another location, and his suspicions fell upon Mildred Davis.
He’d gone exhaustively over the phone records
of all the principal players and found a series of calls
initiated by the girlfriend to the wife. He’d been unable to find
a scrap of hard evidence proving that a confrontation had followed the calls,
but it seemed not unlikely. At that point, he’d been stymied. He believed
that Mildred had put up with a series of minor and meaningless
physical collisions between her husband and various young models,
but that this time Harold had fallen in love with one of the girls,
leaving Mildred’s whole life suddenly situated over a fault line.
Then my father had been suspended and lost all official powers.

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The Spider Pool
Part One

by Michael Larrain

Elusive film actress hires P.I. to probe a mystery. Prose poem. 2,438 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


It was Halloween for eye-candy around the pool,
starlets, models, actresses of considerable reputation,
trophy wives on the arms of powerful producers.
But they were all extras on this set, a backdrop for Jade Bellinger.
Even the other professional glamour-pusses, present in the hope
of becoming the center of attention, couldn’t tear their eyes off her.
As a final proof of her allure, jealous wives, instead of glaring at
their wonderstruck husbands, had chosen to concentrate their own gazes
on the woman.
"Hello. I’m Jade."
It was gracious, though hardly necessary, for her to introduce herself.
She was the toast of Hollywood. She carried a kind of
deep effortless glamor not seen since the days of Garbo and Dietrich.
She had turned down Vogue and Vanity Fair covers,
and chose not to pimp herself out on talk shows or social media.
Said to be the most elusive interview in town,
she wouldn’t even go out on promotional junkets for her own films.
"You may be wondering why you were invited," she said.
It was a wrap party for her new movie, Seeds Of Doubt,
held at her home high in the Hollywood Hills.
"Are you familiar with the history of this place?" she asked.
"I know the legend, the rumors, nothing in particular.
Didn’t it used to be known as The Spider Pool?"

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Rusty Nails

by Christopher Horton

Everybody knows the dreams and desires of a Hollywood actress are ageless. 2,147 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“It was too clichéd. That’s why I never forgave him. To drop dead after cutting the grass? Really? Just charmless.”

There was no venom in the old woman’s voice. In fact, her tone was coquettish — a little creepy now that she was in her late eighties. There was no venom in my thoughts either, even though it was my father she was talking about. He’d had a massive coronary when I was nineteen, when he was a few years younger than I am now, not to put too fine a point on it. At the time, I knew she was going to be more trouble in the years to come than he would have been. I’d felt guilty about thinking that then. But I was right. Yes, she was my mother. I watched her smoke her cigarette. She still did that coquettishly too.

“The rest of it was my fault. You know, my mother told me not to marry him. Hell, his mother told me not to marry him.”

I did know that. Because she’d mentioned it countless times, even before he was gone. Poor bastard — he’d been too stable for her, although that was exactly what she’d needed. And, after fleeing Germany as a teenager, he laughed at her rages and outrages. He’d become an accountant. He wanted something safe, probably because his refugee parents had run out of money in L.A. whilst on their way to Australia and initially survived thanks to tangential acquaintances with Thomas Mann and Billy Wilder back in the old country.

As for her, if you haven’t already guessed, she had been an actress.

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Night Shoot

by Nat Segaloff

A perverse concept for a Reality TV show turns into an even more perverse shoot. 2,122 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It was the dumbest Halloween pitch anybody had heard in forty years. So, naturally, it sold. The reality show was suggested as a joke at a party on Friday night, and by Monday morning the network lawyers had the contracts ready to sign for The Real Vampires Of Transylvania. Why it never aired is revealed in line producer Josh Combs’ production reports. Thanks to Mr. Combs’ widow for permission to reprint them here:

Friday, April 13:
How auspicious to start a vampire series on Friday The 13th. I’m here in Romania for pre-production. We announced an open casting call from 10 to 6, then realized that we should have made it PM instead of AM. In line with the network’s mandate for diversity, we put out a call for a cross-section of physical types. Of course, all the vampires have to look young, beautiful, and sexy; our shorthand for this is “VILF.” Anybody who’s either old or ugly will be cast as villagers. Since we’ll be shooting entirely at night, we were afraid the show couldn’t have any children. Amazingly, all those who applied so far are at least a hundred years old yet look like they’re nine and ten.

In order to make sure we hire the real thing, we have mirrors posted at strategic spots around the meeting room. Note: this may eventually pose a problem for the make-up department. Costuming probably won’t be an issue since everyone tends to arrive dressed in period finery looking like a cross between a Frozen character and the Ambassador Hotel doorman. Most of the actors say they’re from Seattle and are almost all unrelentingly morose. One of the ways we ferret out fakers is by inviting them to sample our craft service table. They refuse everything, although we almost had a disaster when one of the less worldly applicants started to eat a blood orange and we quickly told him it was just a name. Rather than risk another such incident, Amazon Prime is overnighting a supply of crucifixes.

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Can We Make Jennifer Alien?

by John Bensink

A screenwriter uses every Hollywood trick to keep control over his project. 992 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Averill, no. We cannot make Jennifer an alien.”

“I didn’t mean alien, Zack. I meant… anything else.”

“I’m not changing her.”

“But now Jenny’s a—“

“I don’t know this Jenny. My character’s name is Jennifer. She was never a Jenny. She’s an Adjunct Professor of American Literature.”

“Wow. Killer.”

“It’s not who she is, it’s not our story. There’s a thirty-second classroom scene, then she gets the call about her daughter—“

“Why’d she give up the daughter?“

“Did you read this, Averill? She had the baby when she was fifteen, gave it up for adoption, went on with her life.”

“As a sponge diver.”

“What the hell?”

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part Three

by Tom Musca

The director has some last filming to do before it’s the end. 2,792 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Ivan acted like a tyrant with a giant ego but Gail knew he was even tougher on himself. When the director looked back on his body of work all he could see were his mistakes. These two never watched TV together.

Gail was suppressing the real emotions waiting for her at the starting gate of the end of Ivan. “At least you’re still you.”

Ivan declared, “Is that a good thing?” His voice was weak enough for that to come off as funny.

Ivan was now the actor who had only a few more days on the picture and wanted to make sure it was acknowledged he could make things difficult until he was wrapped and his performance handed to the editors.

Ivan stared straight ahead for the next five minutes and reviewed his life, starting from his first memory of falling down the stairs before he learned to walk. Most people had no memories before the age of three but Ivan was different. He remembered nearly everything in moving images that he could summon with little effort.

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part Two

by Tom Musca

A director stages and blocks the actors for his waning days. 1,868 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


The next morning, to combat his feelings of extreme insignificance, Myles insisted on bringing cappuccinos. He needed to make some sort of contribution walking to Ivan’s room in Gail’s company. But it was hard to feel helpful in a hospital setting.

Suddenly, they heard yelling coming from Ivan’s room. Gail lengthened her stride.

“How dare you, You don’t know anything about where I’m going. Who are you kidding? Forget global warming — the world is going to end when I die! Count on it, you motherfuckering-cocksucking-fuckface. People in Asia don’t exist unless I’m walking the streets there. You’re all here as supporting characters in my movie!”

The priest of Indian descent fled Ivan’s room, bumping the cardboard coffee tray in Myles’ hands. Myles bent over and dropped the recycled paper napkins that couldn’t adequately soak up three spills. At Starbucks the biscottis would have come in secure plastic pouches and could have been saved. Instead, the homemade and unpackaged ones that were purchased at the hippie coffee shop were now inedible, crumbling under Myles’s feet. Anyway, the mess in the hall would soon be someone else’s problem.

Myles walked into the room, nodding hello to Ivan for the first time in over a decade.

“I’m not only the star but the entire fuckin’ audience.” Ivan softened his last syllables as Myles drifted to his bedside.

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Dyin’ To Direct
Part One

by Tom Musca

This helmer finds himself in the hospital for his final scenes. 2,033 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


2016 was a banner year: Prince, Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Reagan, Alan Rickman, Gary Shandling, Garry Marshall, Patty Duke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Abe Vigoda, John Hurt, Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, followed a day later by her mother Debbie Reynolds and, most relevant to Ivan, directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Cimino. Dead and buried, or incinerated and turned to ashes if they were politically correct, and most were. After all, we’re talking Hollywood A-listers.

Ivan wasn’t sure if he would have enough produced credits to qualify for the “In Memoriam” feature at next year’s Oscars or Emmys. Embracing the uncertainty of outcome when it came to living fascinated Ivan. But dying was certain and, at least so far, had proven to be far less interesting than he thought it would be. He had moved to Hollywood, Florida, so his Hollywood, California, acquaintances wouldn’t feel obligated to watch him wither away. People in L.A. didn’t like unhappy endings. They liked sequels.

Now with just days to live, Ivan would direct his death, if only to keep himself entertained.

The hospital room was a visual prison for a man who made a living finding interesting frames and giving depth to images. But since he was directing without interference from a producer, studio or network, he could experiment.

Although he did drape an extra blanket over the metal chair to dampen sound, there wasn’t much he could do about the acoustics. But the lighting he could control. When he could still navigate his hospital room without assistance, he covered the overhead light with an amber gel that produced softer skin tones, and he flagged his bedside lamp so its illumination bounced off the back wall, affording his visitors fill light.

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Monumental
Part Two

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival goes from great to horrible for these moviemakers. 2,233 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


As they were packing, Philippe Renoir called to inform the filmmakers that they would finally be meeting their financier Errivo Monsour on the Red Carpet at the Venice Film Festival. After the screening, they would be swept off to his yacht for a lavish fête. Philippe dropped several A-list names before hanging up.

Cynthia spent the next three days in Beverly Hills trying to find the perfect dress. Harlan bought that Ralph Lauren tuxedo he’d promised himself.

Venice was not the picture postcard they’d envisioned. The late August weather was the equivalent of being locked inside a sauna that hadn’t been cleaned in months. The canals gave off the stench of rotting vegetables marinating in a dull brown broth. The streets were clogged with sweaty overbearing tourists. But at least the hotel didn’t disappoint. It was elegantly gaudy and the employees bowed and scraped every time the couple walked past. And room service was delightful.

The filmmakers had flown in a few days early to screen their passion project Monumental for distributors; several seemed genuinely interested afterwards but were loathe to commit until they saw the feature with an audience. The one firm offer they did receive, a direct to cable deal, they turned down flat. Monsour’s representative, Philippe, expressed his annoyance, he being of the bird-in-the-hand school. Harlan said he felt confident a distributor would bite after the premiere. But it was Cynthia who had to point out a contractual obligation he’d forgotte: in the agreements, both leading ladies had inserted a provision demanding a theatrical release. So no streaming services or pay channels were possible.

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Monumental
Part One

by Richard Natale

The Venice Film Festival was the culmination of their dreams. 1,719 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


The source material for their project, an obscure novella called “Fork In The Road,” was the story of two life-long female friends whose paths diverge. One pursues a career as a medical researcher, the other becomes a hardened criminal. But in the end, it’s the latter who has the more emotionally satisfying life. She becomes an angel of mercy in prison, redeeming herself through altruism. The story was tersely written, and because it was delivered without even a trace of sentimentality or bathos, earned the tears Cynthia shed when reading it.

She passed it on to Harlan, who also found the story compelling but pointed out “as a movie it screams ‘woman’s picture.’ The only male characters are incidental. And before you give me ‘the lecture,’ I’m only telling you what every producer in town is going to say, even the female producers. Just trying to prepare you.”

Married just two years, but together for six, they’d discussed several co-scripting projects for Harlan to direct but so far nothing had jelled. Cynthia was keeping them afloat with residuals from a long-running TV series in which she’d been a supporting cast member, and a combination of TV commercials, voice-over work and guest-starring assignments. She was regularly cast in pilots, none of which ever went to series. Harlan, meanwhile was directing local theater and temping as a teacher.

Like many of their aspiring friends, they were just getting by, stuck in gear, in desperate need of forward momentum.

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Mickey Mouse And Sewer Rat

by Matthew Licht

Can a Hollywood animation icon make it in the harsh world of NYC reality? 1,386 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming


Mickey was awful tired. The snap of life was long gone. The heartbeats and thought-waves had died out when the drawing stopped. After that, animation was only a matter of machines, and money. Walt Disney, who wasn’t the nice man his conglomerate’s PR department sold to the world, was long dead, his severed head supposedly stuck in a San Fernando Valley deep-freeze. Minnie, the she-mouse Mickey was supposed to love, had turned into a block of black ice with long eyelashes and too much lipstick. Minnie had nothing to say anymore. She’d been clobbered by life or its simulation, stricken mute as Pluto, that distant animal star. Mickey knew how love felt, but he’d never been happy with what it really meant, to him.

He felt rootless, lifeless, old. Born from a bottle of India ink and a stolen idea, made to move by brushes with destiny, forced to express emotions not necessarily his own, he nonetheless felt the urge to return, somewhere. Back to the well of blackness, the life-blood that tasted like the end, which is where it all began, for him.

Mickey didn’t say goodbye to anyone at the Studio. Not a word to Huey, Dewey and Louie, or whatever Donald’s nephews were called. Not a word to his supposed friend, that buck-toothed monster from another species. He couldn’t even bring himself to say that stupid name.

He didn’t leave a note, he just left.

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