1. the graceful official searching for truth
2. the actor with unexpected depths
3. the puerile aloof smuggler who belongs to a secret organisation
4. the Rude boatman
5. the fear-ridden, short tempered theologian
I remember the doctor well. Big brown eyes and a shock of white hair, but with a freshness and poise that defied his age. He looked at me like I was a frog on a dissecting plate.
"Miss Hess, the studio has recommended you for these clinical trials because you are, ahem... let's just say you are a… suitable actress".
"Come on doc, you know as well I do. It's because I suck"
His graceful demeanor was interrupted for a moment, and then he recovered his composure. "No. Your skills are perfectly suited to this kind of test. The studio will be able to tell immediately the level of their success.” He began to prepare the syringe. “Before we begin however, I need to outline the process for you. We are going to sedate you and..."
"Skip it doc, let's just get on to the part where my bank account fills up"
"...then induce a controlled temporary psychosis. After you come out of the psychosis you will remain..."
"Come on doc, I've got movies to be in"
"...in our care for one week of observation and then released to the studio where your contract stipulates..."
"Yeah yeah yeah... 5 movies and 10 million shiny ones."
"...that you will take part in a test shoot and a further 5 feature length pictures." He glid across the hospital floor towards me, each gesture a movement in an invisible dance. "Miss Hess." he said softly "we are breaking new ground here. If we succeed you will be the first to experience and share a new reality, a new kind of truth. However, there are considerable risks. You have been made aware of the risks involved in this test haven't you?"
I remember how serious his face became. He was obviously excited to be at the helm of a new breakthrough in medical and entertainment science, but nobody wants blood on their hands.
"Yes doc. I understand"
And after that my memory is a blank.
When I woke up the doctor was standing over me. "Back with us Miss Hess."
"How'd it go doc"
"It went well. There was a minor complication, but these will take care of it." He handed me my first batch of pills and a card. "Call this man when you need some more. You'll need to pay for them, but money shouldn't be a problem ever again."
I remember smiling weakly. My head felt weird.
That was a year ago. Now here I was in Salty's shithole of a bar collecting my monthly supply.
Opposite me in the booth Donnie belched loudly and sniggered. "Here you go sweet cheeks" he said throwing the pills across to me. It made me sick to look at him, his swollen gut folded in two by the table between us.
"Donnie, this is only half a fucking week’s worth. Where’s the rest. You've got the money for a full month of pills." When I had first called Donnie the price was 2000, now it was close to 200,000. I knew if the prices kept rising like they were it'd soon become a problem no matter how much I was earning. Not that the current rate was an issue. It was hard to believe that just one year ago 10 million seemed like a lot of money. I was currently getting at least five times that per picture – the mysterious method actor Mia Hess, so good that no-one believed it was the same actress in each movie.
"Prices are rising sweetheart. It's getting harder to smuggle them across the border." Donnie smiled viciously, "but just this once you can get the rest of your month's supply gratis at this address." He slid a business card across the table to me with one fat finger. Thick luxuriant paper embossed with a pair of lines in small black type.
1152 Carthage Street
"Think of it as a good will gesture. These people have a lot of respect for you missy and they've got a job opportunity waiting."
"Don't fuck about Donnie." I spat, hammering my fist on the table "I don't need a job. I've got offers coming out of my ears."
I glanced back down at the card and my drink, and took a look around the boating paraphernalia that lined the walls of the bar to try and calm my nerves. Salty's custom had long since dried up. There was someplace else everyone had to be 10pm on a Wednesday evening. I took a deep breath and a long sip of my beer and grimaced. Maybe there were other reasons for the bar being empty.
I looked back up at Donnie’s face. Sweat dripped down his myriad of chins and dribbled onto his distended polo shirt. He just edged the card across the table. "You'd have to have something wrong with your brain not to go." he sniggered nastily as he pushed out of the booth. He exited the bar wafting his hand behind his back. Seconds later my nostrils were burning from the cloud of noxious gas he'd left behind him. Swallowing the urge to gag, I took the card and my drink up to a stool at the bar hoping that the stench hadn't further tainted the beer.
Salty looked over from behind the bar. "Hanging with the wrong… WANKER! crowd again... COCK!" he mused
"Needs must" I sighed, repressing a smile at Salty's language. He said it was Tourette’s, but I sometimes wondered if he wasn’t just making excuses for his foul mouth. I popped one of the Cannabidiol from the foil pack and swallowed it with another rank sip of beer.
"He's bad... FUCKFACE! news... TOSS POT!" Salty continued eloquently “He wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on the high sea… DICKBREATH!”
I ignored the old barman the best way I knew how, by reaching in my pocket and pulling out my phone. I loaded up the map and typed in 1552 Carthage Street. In the ever expanding city it was hard to keep track of the street names. It blinked up on the phone, may be half an hour from Salty's. "How much do I owe you?"
"It's my... BASTARD! gift to you darling." he said with a grand sweep of his arm, interrupting it with a sideways tick "PISS FLAPS!"
I shrugged and left him to his shit beer and vulgarities.
Outside the air was cooler. I pulled a woolen hat over my close cropped blonde hair and slipped a leather jacket over my white vest top. No taxi would come near this part of town, I'd need to walk over to Carthage Street. At least no-one would recognise me. That was the beauty of the experiment. Sure, when I stopped the anti-psychotics in preparation for a role I got sick. Nausea and anxiety haunted my days and insomnia my nights. But when the withdrawal began to ease and the psychosis kicked back in, boy was I good. I lived the role, I breathed the role. I existed only as the role. A new evolution in method acting they called it. Controlled psychosis allowing actors to actually become their characters. As far as I knew I was the only success from the studio’s expensive trials. Tapping into the latent psychosis in all of us. Projecting my altered reality as a kind of shared psychotic dream. Whatever the reasons behind it, when I was up on screen no-one saw me. They saw their ideal, they saw who I'd become. Meanwhile, I was free to walk around anonymously, no-one any wiser to who I was, to the millions in my bank account.
1552 Carthage Street was an innocuous looking building. Nothing on its exterior identified what kind of business lay inside. I peered through the frosted pane in the front door. There was no light on and through the distorted gloom I tried to make out the fragments of shapes.
A booming voice beside me interrupted my reverie.
"Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you."
A man stood beside me. He was a colossus. A completely bald head shone above me like a beacon in the night and his eyes were piercing behind a pair of small round glasses. Around his neck a priest's dog collar was fixed. How long he had been there I could not say.
I narrowed my eyes "Are you the man with the pills?" I asked uncertainly.
He angrily fixed me with a steely blue gaze "What if I told you that you won't need to take another pill ever again?"
I began to feel the rancid beer clotting with nerves in my stomach, this man was clearly a lunatic. "Then I'd say you obviously don't know shit."
He turned the key in the lock, and flung open the door "Such eloquence." he snapped. "We are in the end times my dear. I am fearful, but we must be ready, for it comes at an hour you will not expect." He moodily led the way through the darkness.
I had obviously upset this giant, and I was torn as to whether to follow him or not, but I knew that my few days stash of pills would never last me and my feet were following him through the dark entrance hall and down an equally dark corridor before I'd had a chance to think it over. We stopped in front of a solid door fixed with a gold crucifix.
The room behind the door was big - full of large heavy furniture and lit by a huge antique lamp on a heavy oak desk. The bald man lit a cigar and turned away from me to look out of a massive picture window into the night. His back was wide and muscular beneath his priest's garb, a stream of smoke trailed over his shoulder from the lit smoke in his left hand. He walked over to the desk and opened a drawer to pull out a remote control. At the push of a button the TV in the corner flicked on.
A familiar sight appeared, one of my pivotal scenes in the movie Hang Loose. I watched silently waiting for my entrance. On screen a door opened and in strutted my character. As always I was struck with that strange sense of disconnect watching one of my performances. Even before I spoke, I was incredible. The character on screen was far taller than me, and more voluptuous. A real screen siren. She didn't look like an actor at all, she was the ultimate femme fatale. She immediately drew you in – it was in her eyes, in her walk. As ever, I was completely transfixed by this stranger walking in my shoes. The large man pointed the remote again and the screen went blank. I turned back to face him.
He was examining the end of his smoke with great interest.
"Your talent Miss Hess, precedes you"
"I... just want my pills"
"Your pills Miss Hess. Or may I call you Mia?" He reached into a drawer in the desk and pulled out a huge pack of Cannabidiol. "I have plenty of 'your' pills". But hear me out first. I meant what I said outside. I have a proposition for you. A proposition that would mean an end to..." he gestured at the pack of pills "...your little addiction".
He took a big puff of his cigar and blew out a cloud of blue smoke. "Would you care for a cigar Mia?" I shook my head impatiently "Very well."
"I am afraid for the world" he continued "you know perhaps ever better than I do the intransience of truth. People will believe what they want to believe."
I put on a show of bravado "Look Mr, I'm all out of listening. Do I get the fucking pills or not." I hissed through gritted teeth.
"Mia” he silenced me with a withering glance. “Mia, look out there". He gestured with a large hand at the window behind him. "Every day, and every night our streets are full of sin. And when people need faith today, they turn to false idols." He fixed me again with that stare. "They turn to you. A measly actor playing pointless roles in meaningless films."
I swallowed hard at the insult. "Does the truth hurt you Mia?"
I tried to think of a reply and opened my mouth but nothing came out.
"What the world needs is for you to play a different role. The role I am offering. The greatest role in all of history. It is no cheap trick in a measly film. It is a part which through your deceit will create a truth to unite the world. It will make you an idol in the true meaning of that word." He paused for effect. "The role I am offering you Mia, is nothing less than God, Yahweh, Allah, the almighty. We both know what you are. How good you are. This is the logical step. The next role in your career. The final role of your career. The role of your life."
He led me around to the side of the room and to a hidden alcove where a mini television studio was set up. "Sometimes to give people the truth we must sell the greatest lie. Stop the pills for good. Become your own reality Mia. Become our God"
“What if I say no?” I asked weakly “I kinda like being me once in a while”.
Again anger crossed the large man’s face. He tutted. “You’ve been given a gift Mia. I’m afraid I can’t allow you to waste it on sentimentality.”
I glanced down and saw a gun had materialized in his hand. I looked from the weapon to the studio and back again. Whichever path I took, I was going to have to wish Mia Hess goodbye. In a way, perhaps I already had.