Thursday, December 06, 2018

Weekly Story #22: Something Lurks Among the Boards

Bit of a late one this week. The last few days have been hectic, and as of this moment I have to go run an errand. Right now, I'll just say that I got the name "Cordwainer" from Harlan Ellison's old pseudonym (which he in turn got from Cordwainer Smith).

You may recognize Maureen Brandon from a previous Weekly Story. From conceptual continuity to actual continuity! This project is truly evolving!
  • Lumber Yard - Director/Actor - Haunting



SOMETHING LURKS AMONG THE BOARDS


The shoot had become a disaster. Director Cordwainer Yates sat in his trailer with a coffee in his hand—he never drank, not after that incident at the Oscars—and stared out the window at the lumber yard. He and his crew had been filming what was supposed to be a routine action scene for the movie Dirt Cheap, and after five days, still had yet to actually finish it. Outside, some of the film crew were loading some logs back onto one of the shelves. The logs had rolled off during a take. They hadn't fallen on anyone, but they did manage to trip up Yates' star Taylor Brandon. It was a miracle Brandon had gotten out of it with only a broken leg.
And since of course Brandon specified in his contract that he must do his own stunts, Yates had no double either. With no star, he had no scene. No scene, no movie.
Yates had spent most of the night brainstorming. He couldn't change the location. He had already scouted fifty lumber yards before deciding on Windy Hill Lumber. If he wanted to change, he'd have to start scouting all over again. And it couldn't not be a lumber yard. Doing Dirt Cheap without the lumber yard would be like doing Terminator 2 without the steel mill.
He looked over the storyboards. It was possible he could work around Brandon's bad leg. Shoot from the waist up. Get a double for long-distance shots, just as long as he doesn't do any stunts. Use camera tricks, blue screens, and post-production for the rest…
Sure, if he wanted it to look like a B movie.
There was a knock at the door. Yates answered, and it took all of his strength not to cry out "For the love of God." His star's wife, Maureen Brandon, was standing in front of him. "Maureen!" he said, forcing a smile. "I wasn't expecting you."
"I just got back from the hospital," America's Damn Sweetheart said. "Brandon's asleep in his trailer. You're lucky I'm too exhausted to call our lawyer right now."
"And you're lucky I'm too exhausted to care about lawyers. How is he?"
"Oh, he's fine. Hogging the rum, but he's fine. Can't wait to start shooting again, but you know how bull-headed he can be." Maureen opened a cupboard and searched through it as if it were her own trailer. "Don't you have anything to drink?"
"Maureen."
"Right, I forgot, the Oscars thing. Look, Taylor and I can't take too much more of this. Any more screwups, and we walk."
"You're not even in this movie."
"But it's important to Taylor. What would it look like if I didn't stand by him?"
She certainly wouldn't look so desperate to project a squeaky-clean image. Dirt Cheap was a typical role for Taylor, but Maureen was the one who needed everybody to forget how she accidentally exposed her secret past porn career by sending out doctored photos of his mistress.
"We'll figure something out," Yates said. "Assuming this lumber yard doesn't kill us. First that fire. Then the choreographer getting food poisoning. Now this. I'm starting to think this whole place is cursed."
An odd expression appeared on Maureen's face. "Funny you should mention that… When we were at the hospital, I heard one of the nurses mention something about a ghost."
"At this lumber yard?"
"I think so. I wasn't listening that carefully."
"Great." Yates gulped down the last of his coffee. He needed more. "So what am I supposed to do? Hire a priest? A ghostbuster? Scooby-Doo? The producers are gonna want an explanation, and I'm gonna have to do better than a friggin' ghost story from a friggin' nurse."
"I'm just telling you what I've heard. Now that I think about it, I have heard a lot of weird noises the last few nights. I thought it was just animals from the woods."
"Probably was. They're right on the other side of the fence. You didn't hear any voices saying 'Get out,' did you?"
"Ha ha," Maureen said. "Although this morning my lipstick wasn't where I left it."
"That's me with my wallet any given Tuesday." Yates got up and loaded his Keurig. "Tell Taylor I'm glad he's all right. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?"
"No, I've made myself clear. I'll see you tomorrow." Maureen went to the door as Yates' mug filled up.
As soon as she opened the door, she froze. "Um, Cord," she said, "I think you should come out here."
Yates picked up his mug and sniffed the coffee. "What is it?"
"Just come look. I don't know how to describe it."
Yates went up to the door. "What the hell?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Maureen said.
Between the trailer and the rest of the lumber yard was a row of oak planks, originally stacked on top of each other, now standing on end exactly three feet from one another.
"Who did this?" Yates said.
"You're asking me?" Maureen said. "They weren't like this when I got here."
They weren't. Yates hadn't seen anything unusual when he looked out the door or answered the door. This could only have happened in the last few minutes. The crew members had stopped picking up logs to stare in befuddlement at what had appeared behind them.
Yates groaned. Of all the people to be right, why did it have to be America's Damn Sweetheart? "So what do we do?" he said. "Is it telling us to leave? Does it want to be in the movie? What?"
A gust of wind rocked some of the boards. They collapsed on top of one another with a clatter like machine gun fire. Yates and Maureen covered their ears until the noise died down.
Maureen said, "Didn't the owner mention anything when you spoke to him?"
"Her. And no. But I think we need to have a word with her."
And Yates and Mrs. Brandon marched from the trailer, across the parking lot, up to the main warehouse. One of the bay doors had been left unlocked so the crew could use the interior at their leisure. Yates pulled it up and went in. The lights were still on. The owner would no doubt still be in her office. Yates walked through the sawdust-covered aisles, with Maureen pacing pensively behind him, past the massive shelves stacked to the top with boards, planks, and beams. Some of the rubble and ash from yesterday's fire still sat in the open. The air conditioner hummed.
The main office was embedded in the far corner of the warehouse. The owner of the lumber yard, Alice Yankrest, sat at her desk. She had just turned seventy, and the angles of her face reminded Yates of a fine wood carving. She looked up from her paperwork. "You need something?"
"Yeah," Yates said. "Hope I'm not bothering you."
"Not at all. Oh, Maureen Brandon? I'm a big fan." Alice shook Maureen's hand. "Any updates on Taylor?"
Maureen said, "He'll be okay, but a broken leg's a broken leg."
"That's too bad. Let him know how sorry I am this happened. If there's anything I can do—"
"Well—"
"Look," Yates said, "right now I just want to get the movie finished. That's not why we're here to see you. Are you aware that just now there were several planks standing on end right outside the warehouse?"
Alice blinked. "Standing?"
"All of a sudden, while our backs were turned. Strangest thing I've ever seen. Did you hear them all falling over a few minutes ago?"
Alice shot from her desk to the door and turned the lock. "I should have known."
"Known what?" Yates said. "This wouldn't have anything to do with what Mrs. Brandon was telling me? About some kind of—"
"About the ghost?" Alice stepped around her desk and dropped back into her chair. "That ghost has been a headache ever since I inherited this business."
"Yeah, rumors can be rough," Maureen said.
"Who said it was a rumor?" Alice laid her arms on the desk. "People have been hearing strange noises and seeing strange things around here ever since my grandfather ran the place. I've seen it myself, in the security videos, roaming through the aisles in the middle of the night. If this is the ghost…" She looked off to the side. "But he hasn't been this aggressive since…"
Yates couldn't believe this. He was surrounded by nutbars. "Assuming this is a ghost, what am I supposed to do? Is he trying to make us leave?"
"Hm." Alice leaned back. "The last time the planks stood up… That was back in '88. Some kids were sneaking onto the lot to drink. The ghost always seems to respond to the presence of alcohol."
"What, he's some sort of Prohibitionist?" Maureen said.
Alice chuckled. "The exact opposite. My grandfather told me about it when I was little. When he ran the lumber yard, back in the 20's, there was an especially ruthless crime boss controlling all the local liquor. He hated competition. If you brought even the slightest drop of someone else's moonshine into town, you were gone, and they'd never find your body. Finally, a rival gang lured him here, to this lumber yard, after hours, and gunned him down. We've had the ghost ever since."
"So what does that mean for us?" Yates said.
"You don't have any liquor in any of your trailers, do you? Beer and wine wouldn't be an issue, but liquor seems to drive him wild."
"I don't," Yates said. "Haven't touched the stuff in ages."
"What about the crew?"
"I don't know. Most of them are staying offsite." There was only enough room on this site for a few trailers, for himself, the Brandons, and the other lead actor, Rubochev. The stagehands all seemed from Yates' interactions with them to be fairly professional—the kind who would at least drink somewhere else when all was said and done—but of course that didn't mean someone wasn't sneaking shots between takes. "That leaves the actors, and—"
And one's wife had been looking for rum in his trailer only minutes ago. And she was standing right here, pretending to read the human resources signs on the wall.
"So if we get rid of the booze, he'll leave us alone?" Yates said.
"Probably can't rule it out. You don't have to get rid of it. Just take it somewhere else."
"Okay." Yates glared over at Maureen. "I'll check around, make sure any liquor gets sent to the hotel. Maureen, you think you can help?"
"I think so," Maureen said with the chill of a blizzard.
"If we find anything, we can save it for the wrap party. Thanks for your help, Ms. Yankrest."
Alice sighed. "Thank you for putting up with my strange, strange family business. Before you go, Mrs. Brandon, could I perhaps get your autograph?"
In an instant, Maureen's face switched from a storm of cold to a burst of warmth. "Why certainly!" Her voice had jumped an octave. She grabbed a pen off the desk. "Who should I make it out to?"
"'Alice' is fine."
"I'll go on ahead," Yates said.
"See you later, Cord," Maureen said. "So Alice, what's your favorite movie?"
Yates skulked down the aisle from the office toward the main doors. As long as he got this stupid scene finished and could move on to the next location, he didn't care if it was a ghost or a live mob boss. He was going to give it whatever it wanted. With any luck, Taylor Brandon would be too crocked to stop a certain director from clearing out his liquor cabinet.
Just as Yates left the aisle, something hit the ground behind him with a sound like a shotgun. He spun around, heart pounding. A two-by-four had slid lengthwise out of its shelf—no, it would have had to be pushed out—and fallen right where Yates had just been walking. It teetered, and toppled, and clattered on the ground across the aisle. Yates watched it lie there as he took several deep breaths. If he'd been a little slower, it would have hit him right in the head.
"All right, all right!" Cordwainer Yates said. "We'll take care of it. Geez! For the love of…"
And he turned his back and left the warehouse. He could deal with the metaphysics later. As far as Yates was concerned, ghost or not, this was just another self-appointed big-shot barging onto the set acting like he owned the place. You'd think he was a producer.