Bela Honeyacre had been like a queen all that morning sitting up in her tall canvas chair. She could just see over the people who ringed the camera. She felt as if everything was being presented just for her. There had, as well, been lunch in the Executive Dining Room at the studio commissary (she had ordered the Chevy Chase Burger Plate, it featured real roquefort and free-ranging bacon or something.) The high point of the lunch had been when Thomas Trust Davies – in full makeup and costume – had stopped by the table to say hello and had called her ‘Belle’ and talked in the cutest Southern accent the way all English actors thought they could. She hoped they would never get this last scene to work to Mitchell’s satisfaction and that she could just watch it – and him – over and over again forever.
The woman named Karen Mae, whom she really liked, who was a mushroom woman or something and whom she wished her father would fall in love with except he was way too short for her, appeared beside her. Karen Mae was nice and old and had a sense of humor and was beautiful the way older people can be sometimes. She was way too tall for Mitchell, though.
“Your mother is wonderful,” said Karen Mae casually to the little girl perched up in the tall canvas chair. “She’s a little strange,” said Bela. “But that’s the way my whole family is.”
“Well, I used to love her songs. Someday you’ll probably think they’re interesting.”
“I think they’re interesting now. I’m not stupid, Karen Mae. If I could write lyrics like her I’d be happy, believe me. It’s just that she’s out of it and has listened to way too much folk music in her time. She never figured out about funk, even, which is truly unbelievable for someone who is her age and can dance as good as she can. She actually gets upset about hip hop. I’ll bet you can dance, or are you like some old Deadhead who freeforms and waves your arms around?”
Karen Mae laughed. “I like country music, honey. I can pretty much dance the two-step.”
“I like country music,” said Bela, defensively. “As long as its Dwight Yoakum or Hank Williams the Third.” There was a pause.
“Well. God, I can’t believe that that man is Chester Honeyacre. And he’s your uncle, correct?” asked Karen Mae.
“That’s him, although I don’t see him now. He’s disappeared again. He should be careful, he doesn’t seem too good.”
“You know, I actually know him. I remember him from high school. And then I saw him yesterday up north and then I saw him on the plane. God. I’m getting way too old for coincidence.”
Bela laughed, but she scarcely believed this sort of talk when it came from adults. Coincidence seemed to be the sort of thing that adults made up about their incomprehensible lives and pursuits.
Now her father finally settled himself in his seat next to the cameraman. She could see several people heading toward Thomas Trust Davies’ trailer in order to coax him out on the set. Two camera assistants and the Director of Photography knelt on the platform at Mitchell’s feet, as if in service to a king. The camera flew up on its silver crane arm high into the air and with it went Mitchell and the camera guys as well as the script woman and some other athletic-looking cute long-haired guys in shorts with wooden clothespins clipped in rows to their pockets and rolls of tape hanging from their toolbelts. Lights dimmed and flared up and then dimmed again. There was a sudden hush on the floor of this great arena. They would try it one more time.
“Alright, people. Here we go. Quiet please. Actors, ‘A ‘ positions, please.”
“People! Quiet please!”
“Lock it down.”
The huge thick doors whooshed shut and distant bells alarmed and red lights began to flash outside the sealed stage as if they were all the center of a police investigation into dark imaginings of intrigue and chalk-lined death. From where Bela was perched, the filming was like some incredible show, some circus in which the stake-bangers and riggers were as much part of the act as the clowns or cannonball artists or fliers. Here the audience itself was part of the show, a circus where so much money was flowing with every tick of the clock, where so much had to be focused down to so little, that the ringmasters no longer cared if someone like her saw through the seams to the back side of the magician. The entire spectacle pleased her. She could see Thomas Trust Davies hitting his shovel that he carried against his high boots and an exasperated costume woman wipe away the marks and talk angrily to him. She could see him apologize and her heart just went buggy for a moment. He was the center of the circus. He was it. He was the guy for her.
“Start your fans,” came the voice of the Assistant Director.
“Are we lit?” from Mitchell Honeyacre.
“Wind. And … we’re rolling sound.”
The artificial wind began to sweep over the set and the false rain began to fall, to drain off into its cleverly-hidden drainages and be recycled into mist again. The thousand lights lighted up and some banks of them flittered and flared as for lightning. (The thunder would be added later – as would much of the dialogue have to be replaced – because the sound department could not cope with the splashing and hissing and electrical hums of the robotic mushrooms and the sound of the fans and the dripping of water.
“Fungus people. Action!” Computers were punched.
“Ok. We’re fine. We’re writhing … and … we’re wet.”
A beep. A clack. Assistants diving out of the eye of the camera.
“And … action.”
From somewhere out in the great bubble of expectation that had then grown up, surrounded by the complex anticipations of so many people, came a wail, a cry.
“I FEEEEEL GREAT. THANK YOU!” The words froze the stage, they came like a moan more than a shout. Everything dumped to a halt.
“Cut! Cutcut! What is that?”
“Save your lights!”
“Actors, please! Hold your positions.”
“We’re cut, people.”
“What the hell was that!? What the fuck was it!?”
There was commotion from the rear of the set and then several crew people emerged carrying a half-conscious Chester Honeyacre. He seemed to have fainted. He was reputed to have thrown up. Mitchell trotted over to where Chester lay and Jim Rook picked Chester up and set him in a canvas chair and Rosie said he was alright, he must have tripped over something. Bela, too, as well as Corvin, raced across the stage and they bent over their Uncle Chester.
After awhile, he seemed to be alright indeed. Bela had heard that the divorce with Aunt Shirley Anne had been brutal, but something seemed wrong with Uncle Chester that didn’t have to do with a broken heart. Rosie Everlasting massaged his broad shoulders with the look of someone who knows what it means to have your shoulders massaged by Rosie Everlasting and finally the kids wandered off to the other side of the huge stage.
Mitchell decided that Chester was alright and that they would try it again.
“People, please! We’re going again. Back to ‘A’ positions please.”
The false rain began to rain again and the lights to light up and through this magical melange of water and air over the mushrooms, bending so slightly in the wind and as well emitting some gelatinous moisture, they clicked off the preparations and the doors closed and sealed and the scene got off and running one more time.
“This is the martini.”
“And … sound is rolling.”
A beep. A clack. Assistants diving out of the eye of the camera.
“And … action.”
A knot of people moved backwards under the swooping camera, as the crane descended in a slow arc, so that at one point Mitchell and all of the cameramen were carried back down to ground level, and then were swept slowly backwards and up to sail just over the heads of the actors and then sweep back up to the scaffolding, to the highest the crane would reach.
“Yes, yes, I’ve found my way alright, down here in the damned earth and ground,” Thomas Trust Davies would say and fling himself against a small puffball with a little whoosh of petulance. These British guys really understood acting, thought Bela.
“And what have you been doing, sir?” a miner would ask the Drifter.
“Playing,” Jack O’Saurus would say. “Digging in the graves of your betters? How can you root down here, friend, like a subterranean pig? I couldn’t stand to be confined by death like this for long. Let me see the body.”
The thing the miners had found was a skull, something found in a grave down among the mushrooms.
“Here’s a good joke,” Jack would say.
“I knew this guy. I’m not kidding you, Gribbs. He was a real joker, this one.”
Thomas Trust Davies would then toss the skull in the air, from hand to hand to tail, like a juggler. Bela loved this and would laugh to herself every time it was rehearsed or played.
“He was a guy who was always joking around,” Jack would say, staring meditatively at the skull.
And then, suddenly, a great boletus mushroom would burst out of the false floor of the mine and begin to grow, as in the slow-motion, stop-frame films that stud all the nature programs on TV. This was Karen Mae’s masterpiece, this mushroom. It was wonderful and gigantic. It created itself as it rose. It was a miracle, something only to be slightly computer-enhanced later, but mostly a real-time effect, a construction of plastics and electricity and craft and guile. It pushed up out of what seemed to be real dense black earth and grew like some expanding and sexually aroused thing. It swelled and its bulbous head grew to some fifteen feet across and rose up to be some two stories tall. In its final form, dripping and pulsating, it was monumental and perfectly real. Its fleshy under-cap was not made up of the familiar gills of most mushrooms but was a bulging ceiling studded with pores big enough for things to hide within. At its top would appear a shrouded creature, an old man, ghostly white and veiled in white smoke and wisps of fog. This ghastly thing, called The Night Rabbit, would rise up and majestically peer down at the two actors below him, who were acting quite frightened, in spite of the fact that they had done these same actions and words over thirty times that day.
“The Night Rabbit of the Night,” would wail this Ghost. “I comes in the night, boy! Which way … will I jump? Eh, Jack?””
With a quavery cry, this piratic Night Rabbit – played by a famous, aging English actor who was deathly tired of this entire movie – would lift the words up into the moist air with a delicacy and sudden artistry that caught Rosie and Bela – and everyone, even Jim Rook – by surprise. Because at a certain point the old man knew the eye of the camera had safely passed him by, he could deliver his succeeding words and wails while relaxing, motioning to someone for a cigarette and sure enough, a cute girl production assistant would appear up on top of the mushroom out of sight of the camera and hand it to him. The old man liked to smoke and saw no reason why he should stop, so he smoked as much as possible, although his coughings had ruined several takes that day. Jack O’Saurus and the miners would turn and, in terror, see the Night Rabbit – or, pretend to see the Night Rabbit. In truth, the old man would be standing with his back to them, smoking and flirting with the cute assistant girl.
“Oh! My God!” Jack would whimper, cowering and looking up. “It is my father!”
And it was at this point, on what had to be the final take, one in which every last little thing had at last gone right, that Chester Honeyacre fell like a stone from high up in the scaffolding above the set and plummetted down directly into the great mushroom, which was so constructed – of a webbed, foam-like blown plastic material – as to actually catch him and enfold him and carry him down nearly to the ground in a ripping, tearing of the thing, water spouting and sparks flying, eliciting cries of “Fire!” and “Cut!” He took with him the elderly English actor and the cute production assistant as well, and their terrified screams added to the general alarm.
“Fire!” shouted the firemen happily.
“And … cut. I liked that one.”
“What happened up there?!”
“People, stay with me.”
“Check the gate!”
“Was that the same guy?”
“Let the fire marshalls do their job. People! Settle! Please!”
“Yeah. He’s alright.”
“Sound, were you ok?”
“O.K for us.”
“Gate is clean.”
“They’ve got Sir Malcolm out, he’s standing up.”
“Let’s print it.”
“Mr. Honeyacre wants to see some playback.”
“Print that one.”
“No! We’re going to see replay.”
“Thank you everyone. Relax, everyone. Please hold your positions, we might have to do it again.”
“Fuck you, Mitchell. You have it, my boy. It is time to go home.” This from Sir Malcolm, now transported to a chair. Mitchell laughed delightedly.
“Your brother, Mitchell my son, fell upon my head like the prophet Elijah,” proclaimed the old man. The whole set erupted in nervous giggles. Bela saw Thomas Trust Davies double over, shaking with laughter.
“We’re almost there.”
“Val, get some medical help here.”
“Flying in, Mitchell.”
“Are you sure Chester is ok?”
“PLEASE, PEOPLE! Quiet. We’re not through yet. Camera, just hold your position at five.”
“He’s talking. He’s talking a lot. He seems ok.”
“How the hell did he get up in the grid?”
With Karen Mae leading, they dragged Chester Honeyacre out of the mess and indeed, he was miraculously alright. Her mushroom, however, was not reparable, as she and the art department quickly determined. To rebuild the giant boletus would mean a week’s delay and therefore a tremendous budget overrun. Sir Malcolm was shaken, for all his bravado. The girl was scared and crying. The whole set helds its collective breath, waiting for Mitchell Honeyacre to make a decision.
The video guys found their starting points and everyone around the camera lined up behind Mitchell to stare at the monitors. As they watched, one by one, the effects out on the set came to an end. The wind ceased, the water stopped, the lights were cooled down. AmusementNow! began tentatively interviewing people, especially Sir Malcolm and Thomas Trust Davies, but Chester and Jim Rook as well. Three electricians up on the grid passed cigarettes to each other. Finally, the take was done. They played it back twice to make sure. The camera had not seen the great fall of Chester Honeyacre. He was not in the shot.
Mitchell Honeyacre had a choice. He thought about his brother surviving the amazing fall. He thought about the coincidences involved. He thought about certain apocalyptic words that Chester had uttered as he regained consciousness. He concluded that Chester’s fall was an omen. He thought about his financial responsibilities in the event of a major budget overrun.
“It’s good,” said Mitchell. “We’ve got it. Check the gate.”
“We already checked the gate.”
“Check it again.”
A murmer of pleasure and relief burst forth from those around him. Applause began to ripple forth over the whole vast stage.
“Mr. Honeyacre, am I calling this wrapped?”
“Gate is clean.”
Mitchell took a deep breath. From where he was he could see what looked to be Rosie Everlasting kissing Jim Rook in the shadows.
“People. It’s official. Print that one. And we’re wrapped! This show is over!”
There was a cheer. Thomas Trust Davies happened to be standing next to Bela’s chair at that moment and he was so happy that he absent-mindedly gave her a quick hug and leaned down and kissed her right smack on the lips.