A successful actor discovers the consequence of appearing in too many crappy movies. 3,245 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Only a dozen people remained dancing, drinking, and trying to score as music echoed around the club. Kal Bobby sat alone with a smile on his perfectly tanned face. It was the wrap party for Kal’s film that would never be seen in a movie theatre because it was destined to be Netflix-ed on an iPhone. In the instantly forgettable feature he played a police officer from a small town transferred to New York City to fight zombie-terrorists who somehow steal millions of dollars in gems and buy weapons of mass destruction. As bad as the pitch sounded, Kal was paid just under $1 million with his name above the title – an act of desperation by the producers who faced a rapidly approaching shooting date and no lead after Charlie Sheen pulled out.
Kal wiped his forehead and glanced about. Being alone at an event like this was worse than being invisible. He played with his cell phone, pretending to read nonexistent texts. Kal looked for his date, Carla the redhead. He didn’t know her last name. She was close with Kal’s agent and always good for these events. She’d wandered off when Tony Danza showed up. Kal wasn’t sure if that was more embarrassing for him or for her.
Kal shoved the cell phone into his tasteful Valentino suit jacket and headed for the restroom. A caterer smiled and bowed his head slightly as Kal walked by. Nice to be noticed, Kal thought, until he realized that the caterer was just coughing.
The Actor was relieved to find the restroom empty. He locked the door, rubbed his eyes, wiped his chin and stared into the mirror. The lighting was unkind. He moved closer to the mirror and ran his fingers across his face and — was it the fluorescents? — he could see through his hand. He leaned in closer but the longer he stared without blinking, the more transparent it became. Now he could see through his head and make out the fresco on the back wall.
He straightened up thinking the illusion would go away. But he remained slightly transparent. There was a knock. “I’ll be just a second," Kal called out.
Another knock, even louder. Then a baritone voice filled the room. “Is anyone in there? Are you OK? We will open the door with the keys.”
“Just a second!” Kal yelled, louder this time.
“Hello, is there someone in this bathroom?”
“I’m here! I’ll be out in a moment!” Kal screamed.
He heard the sound of keys against the lock and voices asking questions. Kal raced to the door and flipped the lock. It opened on a 6-foot-6 security guard. Behind him stood several caterers, the club’s owner and the film’s producer Ty Deem. “I told you I was in here. What’s the fuckin’ hurry?” Kal said, calmer now.
“Sorry, sir,” said the rent-a-cop. “I didn’t hear you.”
“Didn’t hear a thing, Kal! Sorry,” said Ty with a big smile. He always smiled.
“I’ll talk with you next week, Ty. Gotta run. Great party.” Kal headed to the exit as quickly as he could without running.
The next morning, Kal Bobby woke up to the sound of… nothing. He didn’t hear the traffic on Sunset. He wondered what time it was. He knew he didn’t have a set to be on. No jobs booked in the foreseeable future thank-you-very-much-Kenny-my-agent, he thought.
Behind the drawn curtains of his bedroom was a great view of Los Angeles and the dozen or so estates layered up the hillsides. He opened the drapes and let the sun flood in. But everything seemed blurry, as if he were wearing glasses smeared with grease. He snapped his head back and closed his eyes tight. He held that pose until his neck hurt, then opened his eyes again. He fell backward from the brightness. He rolled onto his side. Now he heard traffic in the distance, birds squawking, the hum of air conditioners and leaf blowers. Typical morning sounds.
He hoisted himself up and slipped on khakis, a tight-fitting green t-shirt and brown loafers and made his way downstairs. In the refrigerator Kal found the fruit bowl that his housekeeper Isabella makes each breakfast. But this one had been picked over, and the best pieces were missing. He looked around the kitchen. On the center island was a Latin magazine open to a picture of Antonio Banderas. A cup of coffee sat, half-empty with no coaster, on the countertop.
“Isabella!” Kal stormed towards the open French doors and saw Isabella sitting by the side of the pool, her skirt pulled up to her thighs, her legs dangling in the water, chatting on her cell phone. Kal never learned Spanish and wasn’t about to start. He walked over. She talked and splashed with her legs. He crossed his arms and said in a low but intimidating voice, much like the tone he’d used in his first successful film The Insane Intern, “Isabella, what are you doing?”
She ignored him. She looked into the pool, rubbed her left knee and kept talking.
“Is-a-bella.” Kal punched the name out, over-pronouncing every syllable.
She slowly turned her head, glanced in the direction of his loafers and looked right through Kal. She couldn’t focus on what was there. She saw a shape at first, like dust rising from a car driving through the desert. Then she screamed and tossed her phone into the air. She lurched backwards away from Kal, scraping her legs across the cement, bloodying her knees. The phone splashed into the pool. Kal jumped backwards.
Isabella grabbed at her heart and slowly started to stand.
“Oh, Mr. Bobby. I am so sorry! I didn’t know it was you. I thought you were not here. I thought you were gone. You weren’t in your room this morning. I thought you were…”
“Well, I am here, I am in my house and I was sleeping in my bed!”
He was less angry now.
“I knocked on your bedroom door like I always do at 10:00 am. You didn’t answer. So I went in and… Were you in your bed?”
“Yes! And I was just yelling for you. Didn’t you hear me?”
“So sorry, Mr. Bobby. So sorry.” Isabella looked at her phone which was bobbing from side to side in the pool. “I will ask Jesus to get the phone out. So sorry.” Isabella ran back into the house.
Kal walked to the edge of the pool and kneeled down. He couldn’t see his reflection in the water. There was a shadow floating on the surface — no eyes, no hair, no teeth, no Kal Bobby. He poked his hand into the pool and disrupted the surface. He stretched back and squinted his eyes. “Is that me?” he asked out loud to the shadow on the water.
He turned to see if someone was standing behind him. No one. Nothing but the house and the oversize birds of paradise, their bright orange flowers looking more repulsive than inviting. His pool could no longer see him.
Kal arrived for lunch at La Plato De La Gato 15 minutes late. His agent deserved to wait. Kenny had scored little good work for Kal over the past few years. Crap is what Kal called it. A living is what Kenny called it. The actor stepped into the restaurant’s dining room to take a quick look around and see who was there. But he didn’t realize that one of the French doors was closed. He slammed into it hard and heard the sound of breaking glass as he landed on his ass in the garden. He felt a trickle of blood running from his nose.
Kal heard concerned voices, trays being put down and people rushing around. He waited. But no one came to him.
A woman in a miniskirt whom the actor recognized as the restaurant’s hostess nearly stepped on him, then backed away. She wrinkled her nose and squinted her eyes. She looked down at Kal’s feet and into his face. She saw him.
“I’m sorry, sir. Are you OK? Someone will be right with you.” Kal had known Diane for years. He had even taken her to an opening or two of his films.
Suddenly, Benny the restaurant manager saw him, too. “Mr. Kal, I’ll take care of you.” The old man grabbed the actor’s hand. Kal realized it was the first time in a week that anyone had touched him. Benny led him to a small office and cleaned Kal’s face with a warm wet washcloth. The blood stopped. Benny marched Kal back into the dining room and over to Kenny’s table.
The agent was too busy on his phone to notice them. Benny grabbed the actor’s elbow, pulling him down to whisper in his ear, “Mr. Kal, before you leave, come to my office. We need to talk.”
Kal smiled. “About the door? Worried about a lawsuit? Benny, I’ve been coming here too long to do that to you.”
“No,” Benny said. “We must talk about you. You must realize by now. Now you sit, Mr. Kal, and have a glass of water.”
Benny pulled the chair out from the table and pushed Kal into it. That seemed to get Kenny’s attention. He put his phone aside. Benny said, “Kenny, Kal is here. Here is Kal. He is here to have lunch with you.”
Kal thought the syntax odd and the introduction unnecessary — until he saw the puzzled look on Kenny’s face.
“Hey you, sneaking up on me! How was the wrap party?” Kenny cleared his throat. “Sorry about that redhead dumping you. Man, I was so pissed when I heard that.”
“No problem,” Kal said.
Kenny ate a breadstick. “These are so fuckin’ good. I wonder if you couldn’t sell these things all over the country. You think?”
“You OK? I mean, you aren’t using again?”
“No, I’m not. I mean, I’m not using but something is wrong with me.”
“I have a doctor you should see. Great guy. Here….”
“No, Kenny. A new doctor isn’t going to help me.”
“I get it.” Kenny put the breadstick down. “I understand what you’re saying. You want out. You think I haven’t done enough for you.”
“What?” Kal interrupted.
Kenny cleared his throat. “If you don’t want me working for you, I won’t. I get it. I know how this game is played. Are you even listening to me? What’s up with you?” demanded Kenny.
The agent went on, apologizing and then accusing. Kal couldn’t focus on the conversation. When the menus arrived, Kenny ordered for Kal because the waiter couldn’t understand what Kal was saying. Finally, the food arrived. After a few bites of salmon, Kal felt nauseous. He excused himself and went to the rest room. He splashed water on his face and looked in the mirror. He couldn’t see himself. The drops appeared to be running down a shadow.
Kal walked slowly back to the table but Kenny was gone. The waiter stopped by. He squinted his eyes and moved closer, then reached out and touched Kal’s face. He was startled to actually feel something. “The man who was sitting here said that you’d better not call him again.”
Kal saw Benny walking towards his office and followed. The actor sat down at Benny’s desk. Benny looked at him but struggled to see him.
“You’re Fading,” said the restaurant manager.
“What?” asked Kal.
“You’re Fading,” Benny repeated. “I came out here in ’48 from Wisconsin wanting to be an actor. Was in a half dozen films but never hit. I know what’s wrong with you. This condition has lots of names but I call it Fading. Nice and cinematic, I think.”
This struck Kal as a joke. But the actor knew it was real.
“I’ve seen it happen dozens, hell, hundreds of times,” Benny continnued. “You are Fading and soon no one will see you.” Benny leaned forward, fished a breath mint from a dish atop his desk and popped it in his mouth. “You’ll be gone.”
Kal teetered on the chair. The sound of the busy restaurant in the background echoed in his head. He looked in his lap and could see a bit of the gray floor through his body.
“Can I stop this?” Kal asked.
“You probably can’t. Only a few people have. You should make plans and prepare. That’s better than just – POP!” Benny made the sound with his lips like a kid. “Disappearing one day.”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why does anything happen? Why did you make so many bad movies? Maybe you overstayed your welcome in the space-time continuum. I guess there’s only so much of any one person the universe can handle.”
Benny opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of brandy and two shot glasses. He poured expertly. Kal eagerly slammed his drink back. “No one knows why this happens. There are theories.”
“Some people blame curses, Satan, black magic, Yahweh trying to wipe the city away, a karmic retribution for all the bullshit that gets sold here.”
“Who else has Faded?” asked Kal.
“So many. Tina Smothers, remember her?”
Kal scratched his head. That name seemed familiar.
“Mr. T…” Benny continued. “I was Fading once.”
“You? But I can still see you.”
Benny offered another shot to Kal who declined. He wanted lucidity. “It was after my last film. Another stupid Western. I played a Mexican. Can you imagine, me, a kid from Wisconsin, as a Mexican? " Benny said. "Anyway, I started to Fade. Couldn’t see myself in the mirror. My wife left me, hardly remembering we were married. I got to the point where I was broke, homeless and couldn’t even depend on holding a glass of water in my hand. Apparently, every other thing in this world decided I didn’t exist.”
“How did you stop it? " Kal asked. "Do you have medicine? I’ll pay top dollar. I can sell my house, get you all the money you want.”
“I don’t have a prescription. I could have made a lot of money if I did. No, my cure came slowly. I got a job here as a waiter. It took weeks of showing-up and begging the owner to hire me. And I used to complain about auditions! Here I was auditioning for existence. The first weeks were tough. I Faded in and out. Customers didn’t remember I was their waiter. Paychecks weren’t made out to me. But slowly, as I worked here, I started to come back. My reflection reappeared in the mirror. My hands held trays of food and drink. In time I bought this place and have never been afflicted again.”
Kal was in a panic now. “Can I work here?”
Benny laughed. “Of course, but it may not help you. I hired several actors and actresses who were Fading. Didn’t help them. In time, they just Faded away. They had negative presence.”
Kal stood up agitated, unable to figure out what to do.
“Look, a couple of others got better. There was a game show host who moved back to Nebraska and opened a store selling 4-wheel tractors. He stopped Fading.”
Kal started to pace back and forth.
“Kal, all I can do is tell you what I know. You must Remind everyone who you are and what you are doing. Soon, though, your agent, your friends, your wife or girlfriend and kids will not remember you. Look at it as a chance to start a new life.”
“I’ve worked so hard, so long, as an actor. What the hell have I done to myself?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t tell you things will work out. Find a purpose in life no matter how mundane it seems. In the meantime, there are places where people like you hang out. Some clubs with side rooms. This restaurant, every Saturday night at 10:00, hosts a get-together in the downstairs pub for Faders.”
“Benny, I had my birthday party down there one Saturday night, and I didn’t see anyone who wasn’t invited…”
Benny chuckled. “Of course you wouldn’t see them.”
Kal left – but not before asking the valet for his car a dozen times. The actor drove down Melrose and up La Brea to his house in the Hollywood Hills. He’d never been a religious man, but in The Price Of Faith he’d played a priest who took up martial arts to defend his village from a roving band of post-apocalyptic mutant scavengers. He’d found the role fulfilling. He still had the priest costume. He remembered his favorite line from that movie, a real show stopper: “If you don’t find religion, I’ll find religion for you. Cut you open and pour it in!”
Kal sat at a red light. He couldn’t see himself in the rearview mirror. He looked at the steering wheel and saw only an outline of his hands. He felt paralyzed with fear. The cars behind Kal’s were honking and he jammed into gear and took off.
Kal fought with the lock on his front door for 20 minutes, finally forcing his way in, and then had to punch at the alarm four times to turn it off. Everything looked underexposed, all grey and shadow. He flipped on a light, but that didn’t help. He made his way to the kitchen thinking a six-pack or two of beer couldn’t hurt. He stopped in front of an oversized movie poster for his film, The Curse Of Madness. It featured Kal as a mad scientist, complete with dark circles under his eyes and crazy Einstein hair, fighting a giant half-shrimp/half-man. The text in bright yellow read, “Desires no man should have. Questions no man should ask!” Films no man should make, Kal thought.
His iPhone didn’t recognize his fingerprint. He tried to open the refrigerator several times, but his fingers slipped through the handle. He searched for his reflection in the stainless steel. A blurry smudge looked back. Kal felt his eyes well up.
It was the first time in 20 years he wept real tears. He turned around, his back hardly present enough to be stopped by the refrigerator. He slid down to the floor and sobbed. The tears ran down his face but disappeared before they hit the tile.
Seven years later. Forest Lake, Minnesota. The Wal-Mart had been open for about a week. People were pouring in to buy 100% cotton underwear made in a tiny village just northeast of Beijing. Mr. and Mrs. Gunderson landed a parking spot out front. The automatic doors opened and as they grabbed a cart, someone said, “Welcome! Is there anything I can help you with today?”.
Mr. Gunderson wasn’t sure where the voice was coming from. Mrs. Gunderson turned to her right and saw a friendly smiling man with a grey beard.
“We saw in the paper that Kingsford Charcoal is on sale.” she said.
“That’s in aisle two. Just turn left.”
The Gundersons stared at the greeter thinking he looked oddly familiar. “Have we seen you someplace before?” asked her husband. The man with the beard had a smile that warmed the store.
“I used to be in a few movies.”
Mr. Gunderson smiled. “I knew I had seen you somewhere! I knew it.” He and his wife pushed their cart toward aisle two.
“At least you can see me now,“ said Kal, adjusting his glasses and turning to greet the next customer.
One comment on “Fade Out”
Great story. Reminds me of Ray Bradbury. And the perfect illustration to amplify your words.