MiraclesHollywood and heavenly.
"We're going down to the studio," he explains. "The major players will be there. This movie's going to be like nothing anyone's ever seen before, and once you're on location, you'll see why!"
Rick gestures for the other man to lead the way. He thinks about mentioning his strange dream to the trio, then shakes his head before the words can come out. As the elevator descends Rick holds his guitar case in front of him and smiles nervously at the older men from behind it.
The trip to the studio takes about a half hour. Beck and Mordo dominate the conversation. Strange is reserved and seems to defer to the older Mordo. When the group arrives, they are in the fenced-in parking lot of a large, red-brick warehouse. Several other vehicles are already on site, as well as two trailers. Signs on the doors read SUE STORM and ROBERT PRESTON. Rick recognizes both actors, as well as a few other minor players, milling about the entrance to the warehouse.
"About time, Beck," Robert Preston grumbles.
Beck waves a dismissive hand, "Sorry, Bobby. Busy, busy." The director fishes keys from his coat pocket and unlocks the door. "Step into my parlor, ladies and gents." He flings open the door.
Inside is an enormous, empty space, nearly the size of a football field, painted a horrible lime green. Stairs immediately to the left of the door lead up to a small office that overlooks the floor of the warehouse. Catwalks circle the space and lead across the ceiling overhead, criss-crossing in a checker board pattern. Closer examination of the lime green walls, floors, and ceilings reveal what appear to be tiny, flat lights set into the surfaces. Hundreds of them, in fact. Beck jogs up the stairs into the office, followed by Mordo. A moment later, Beck's voice can be heard over the intercom.
"Brace yourselves," he says. "And get ready to keep your mouths shut when you leave here. What you are about to see is super top secret, and will change the way movies are made for all time."
There is a faint pop! and the warehouse goes pitch black. Then, an even fainter hummmm! kicks in. The hundreds of tiny lights glow softly.
"Act one, scene one," Beck says. "The funeral."
In the next instant, the awful lime green warehouse is gone. Instead, the cast and crew are standing on soft earth in an old graveyard under a gray autumn sky. A chill wind blows. Clouds drift overhead. An open grave sits in the middle of the scene, a closed casket suspended above its maw. Skinny leafless trees dot the area. Ruffled crows perch in the trees. One cries out loudly.
"Impressive, huh?" inquires Beck. "Each 'light' in the wall, floor, and ceiling is actually a holographic projector and camera. Audio equipment built into the same plays back and records. This is the only set we need for virtually the entire movie. Indoor. Outdoor. Close ups and aerials. It even includes a cast of hundreds."
The ground over several of the graves cracks, buckles, and erupts, showering dirt and debris, and a score rotting corpses climb awkwardly to their feet and begin to shuffle forward. Then, in another blink, they are gone, along with the graveyard and everything else. The cast and crew are back in the lime green warehouse again.
"Well," says Beck as he bounds down the stairs. "What do you think?"
Sam Stern was heading back to his apartment after stopping at what was becoming his favorite diner for a hamburger and a soda. As he was walking by the small churchKnox Presbyterianthe haunting sound of a solo tenor stopped him in his tracks. The man's voice was exquisite, even aching beautiful, and, although the words were indistinct, there was something pleasantly familiar about them.
Stern had sung in his church choir when he was...man, that seemed like it was so long ago. A sudden deep sigh caught him by surprise. I am not a nostalgic man, he told himself, and yet he was getting choked up. Why? Were his nerves that much on edge that he'd so easily slip down the slope of emotion? No, he told himself as he forced a steely calm over himself. The changes that had come over him since Dark Angel had bolstered his inner strength. And yet....
He found himself at the door to the church, the street light casting an eerie glow on the patina of the door handle. He hesitated to open it. Where's your inner strength now, boy? Who are you trying to kid?
Stern had become afraid of having these inner dialogues with himself; he was afraid of hearing the voices of the Brothers again. He didn't want to be a chosen one. He just wanted to be
"Dark Angel," a voice accused him from nearby.
Stern wheeled around, fists clenched, as if he were going to face an attacker. As soon as he had completed the turn, he knew no one would be there. A wash of panic cascaded up his spine and he fled into the church.
Sprawled next to the stairs, concealed in shadow, is a haggard man in filthy clothes. His eyes shine with drug-induced delirium. "Relax, man," he slurs, grinning. "Said he sings like an angel, man, tha's all, like an angel."
The tenor inside the church distracts Sam from the bum for a moment. He recognizes the song now. "How Great Thou Art". Second verse just ending, leading into the crescendo of the chorus. With the swell in music, there is a swell of unbidden emotion in Sam's throat. Recollection well up of simpler times as a teenager growing up in small town America, comfortable, prosaic, with those long days of summer work and leisure.
"G'wan in, man," the bum says. "Ya know ya wanna."
"Yeah," Stern said distantly, eyeing the door. I wondered what people meant when they talked of salvation, and now, he told himself, I understand. A giant hole filled with fear had centered itself in Sam's life and he wished to be rid of it, to fill it in with...he still didn't have the answer to that part. Would coming back to the Church do it? Would it fill that hole?
Too many...too much...too few. Balance. It started with the first step. Into the church Sam stepped.
The interior of the church is dimly lit, with most of the illumination at the front, near the altar. There are two men inside. One, obviously elderly judging by his shock of white, thinning hair, sits in the front pew facing the slightly raised front of the chapel. The second, a younger man, stands next to the pulpit, singing, his eyes closed. His voice is strong, clear, enchanting. Although Sam is quiet, something disturbs the scene, perhaps the subtle change in the atmosphere caused by the introduction of a third party. The elderly man turns. The singer stops singing.
"Yes," he says. "Can we help you?"
"Um," Stern said looking at the man, then behind him as if he half-expected someone to come charging in after him, "yeah, well, uh, no, not really. I mean I heard you singing and I, uh, thought I'd come in and listen...uh, that is if you don't mind, uh, 'cause I could use some peace and, uh...." Stern sat down in a pew near the door. "Do you mind if I sit? I won't bother you."
"Please, sit," the singer replies, and the older man nods in agreement. "You're always welcome here."
The private recital continues. It becomes obvious that the duo is preparing for a special service this Sunday, and the singer, whose name is Charles, is practicing. Listening on the snippets of conversation, Sam discovers Charles is a tax lawyer, and this late night session was all that fit his schedule.
"His devotion is commendable."
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al