“The most important decision you can make right now is what you stand for. Goodness…or badness.”
– Judge Smails, Caddyshack
“We need more blood!”
I’ll bet you do, the gaunt nineteen-year-old snarled inwardly. His own pale complexion suggested he could have used a little blood himself. He looked completely untouched by the Southern California sun, which should have added some highlights to the dank, scraggly, jet-black hair partially obscuring his sullen expression. More blood. I’ll give you more blood. It was a dark thought for a Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m serious!” the voice came again. “More blood over here!”
He was sure the director of this tawdry little high school epic had no idea what his name was, and probably only a vague idea of what he looked like. He just knew that he was the one to pour more of this syrupy stuff on the dozen or so cinematic victims, all of whom had been conveniently piled into a makeshift mound of corpses.
At least one of them wasn’t particularly happy about it. “Could we finish this shot soon, please?” she said. “Paul’s hand keeps wandering.”
“It does not!” Paul protested. He was at the bottom of the pile, covered in what looked like whitewash, with a huge gash painted on the side of his left cheek and a false eyeball dangling from a concealed socket. He certainly looked far worse than he felt, but he still wasn’t a happy guy at the moment.
“Oh, doesn’t it?” the equally whitewashed girl snapped back at him, the blade of a plastic axe embedded in her forehead. “You think just because you have a few lines in this thing you can cop a feel whenever you want to?”
“What makes you think I would want to?” Paul snorted.
“What makes you think it’s his hand?” came a muffled voice from somewhere in the middle of the pile.
The klieg lights shone down brightly on the rustic cabin set, which was starkly out of place centered amidst the gray, utilitarian studio walls.
“More blood!” the director barked again, somehow managing to keep the lit cigarette in his mouth from falling out as he spoke. He was in his standard pose, with both his hands buried in his straight, stringy, greasy hair, which the youth judged to be far too long and far too de-grayed for a man of his advancing years. The large sweat stains on his well-tailored, faux-casual shirt were constantly on display. The teenager thought he always looked as if he were in a state of perpetual panic as he flapped his elbows like some frenzied chicken. This was a stark contrast to the young man’s own serene demeanor as he stood there, unmoving, with his hefty blood bucket safely enfolded between his arms.
“Get him off me!” the axe girl shrieked, this time to the zombified, toothless freak on top of her, as Paul used the moment to reach up and slap her behind, chuckling to himself. Another zombie gave him a high five, or, at least, as high a five as possible.
The entire pile shifted queasily.
This was too much for the director, who threw down his cigarette uncomfortably close to Paul’s face, nearly singeing the fake eyeball that was almost touching the ground. He spoke each word with a theatrically precise and measured rage.
“WHERE – IS – THAT – KID?!”
The teenage boy sauntered over in the direction of the mayhem, still feigning indifference, even though he suspected what this little stunt would cost him in the end.
“He’s over here!” shouted a gum-chewing girl grasping a clipboard. It was a clipboard that the teenager knew well, because she used it to keep note of everything he did wrong. This struck the young man as a colossal waste of time, because the man who had asked her to keep tabs on him almost certainly never glanced at her reports. No, in his eyes, she just carried the clipboard because she was trying to look important. She wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all, him. He remained decidedly nonplussed as the girl grabbed his bicep and forcibly dragged him over to the director. “Careful, Cathy” the teenager muttered as he was jerked awkwardly toward the would-be deMille. “You don’t want to be too rough and spill blood.”
“This is not appropriate behavior,” she hissed. “You know better than this.”
“And you should know better than to wear that blouse,” he whispered back. “It makes you look like a pilgrim or something.”
Cathy’s reaction was predictably indignant, but it wasn’t her mood that interested him at the moment.
The director didn’t bother to turn his head until the youth had reached the range of his peripheral vision. Was he mad at him? the teenager asked himself. Clearly, he was. But he was more impatient than he was mad. That wouldn’t do. The kid knew a surefire way to bring his anger to the fore.
“Finally!” the director huffed, turning his head back to the zombie dogpile. With an edge of irritation in his voice, he spoke quickly. “Now dump that bucket on the pile. Now.” He said “now” twice. Redundant, the teenager thought. Glib. Not very bright.
“It’s going to get in my eyes!” said Axe Girl. She tried to pull her hands out of the pile, presumably so she could cover her eyes from the soon-to-be-falling blood. Yet her attempt to dislodge her arms had an unsteadying effect on her zombie comrades, who all protested in unison as the integrity of the pile was threatened. Paul used the opportunity to let his right hand wander without fear of reprisal.
And still, the defiant youth stood, unmovable. The director, who seemed to have already mentally moved on to the next shot, was unclear as to why the blood hadn’t already been dumped. It took him several seconds to consciously acknowledge the source of the delay, at which time he finally wheeled around to face the young man who had worked so hard to earn his full attention. The hands came out of the hair, and the impatience was quickly buried beneath an almost uncontainable fury. He didn’t raise his voice as he spoke to his youthful antagonist, but what his voice lacked in volume, it made up for in tension.
“Are you deaf, kid, or are you just stupid?”
The kid in question smiled languidly, as if he had all the time in the world. This was the moment he’d been preparing for, and he was determined to enjoy it for as long as he could.
“I’m not deaf,” the boy smirked, “and I’m certainly not stupid.” Now he had the director’s full attention. Everything was going according to plan.
The director was not amused. “Blood. Pour. Now.” He was almost hissing, his gritted teeth not opening a crack.
The teenager glanced over at Cathy, who was subtly shaking her head, as if to say don’t do this. Please don’t do this. He just gave her a wicked smile, took a deep breath, exhaled, and then got to the point. “I have a name,” he said simply, still clutching the bucket.
Cathy closed her eyes.
The entire set had ground to a halt, except for a few whimperings from the zombies, which everyone ignored. The director’s voice was icy cold as he spit out a single word. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” the teen replied, not sorry at all. “Are you deaf, mister, or are you just stupid?”
No whimpering from the zombies now. The director looked ready to pummel this little snot-nosed punk, but he managed to stop himself just in time. Instead, he grabbed the bucket, dumped it on the pile himself, and buried his hands back in his greasy, non-gray hair. “Cathy,” he said, not raising his voice, “get this kid off the lot.” And all the air in the room seemed to return, as did the predictable pandemonium from the zombie pile.
“My eyes! My eyes!” Axe Girl shrieked. A guy with a trickle of black goo dripping from his mouth complained that he was having a hard time breathing.
“I have a name,” the youth said again, with no one listening. His moment had been lost, and he was frantically trying to drag it back again. But now the crew was moving, the zombies were restless, and his least favorite clipboard lady was yanking him in the other direction. “I have a name!” The teenager was shouting now. “I’m David Chakiris!”
“Real smooth,” Cathy whispered as she made a note on her clipboard.
David had hoped he wouldn’t have to use the Chakiris name this way. It would have carried so much more weight if it had come out at the appointed time, but he was smart enough to know when you have to improvise.
In any case, it worked. The director stopped again, and turned slowly to face him. This wasn’t quite the way I envisioned this, David thought. But it will do.
“David Chakiris,” the director repeated. As if to remind himself, he added “Leo Chakiris’ kid.”
“Figured that out all on your own, did you?” David was in charge now, and he liked the way it felt. His eyes were filled with several months worth of scorn he’d been saving up for just such an occasion.
The director regarded him coolly for but a moment before speaking again. “Cathy,” he said, his voice flat and even and directed at the clipboard lady while his eyes remained frozen on his adolescent nemesis.
“Yes, sir?” Cathy answered. Once more, all eyes were on the director, who was still locked in his stare with David.
Then the director allowed himself a thin smile. He shouldn’t be doing that, David thought. Why is he doing that? Something’s gone wrong.
“Please escort David Chakiris, Leo Chakiris’ kid, off the lot.”
Cathy grabbed David by the arm again, but David wrenched himself free and ran up to the director. “You wait ‘til my father hears about this!” He was yelling again, and he was having a difficult time keeping the panic out of his voice. “You just wait!”
“Oh, he’ll hear about this, all right,” Cathy said, quietly enough so the director couldn’t hear her.
“You’re pretty good at keeping people waiting, aren’t you?” the director quipped, getting a nervous laugh from the crew around him. No, David thought. They think he’s funny. They’re on his side. This is wrong, all wrong.
He had run out of options. He had lost control. All that was left to him was the strength of his fist. But even as he raised his arm with violence on his mind, listening to the frightened gasps of the zombie pile, he felt the steel grip of someone who wasn’t carrying a clipboard. And he heard a deep voice behind him telling him it was time to go. This time, he didn’t put up a struggle. Before he knew it, he was out on the street, midway between the studio gate and the bus stop at the end of the block.
A warm Santa Ana wind was blowing, carrying with it all the oil-soaked smells of the nearby freeway. David stared at the studio gate for a minute or so, but he knew he wouldn’t be heading back inside any time soon. He indulged his wrath for as long as he could, but realizing that nobody else either knew or cared how he was feeling, he moped out toward the street to sit on the graffiti-covered bench right next to the overpass, where he would suffer the ultimate indiginity.
He’d have to sit and wait for the bus.
He reviewed the confrontation over and over again, never once questioning whether it might have been better for everyone if he’d just done his job and dumped the blood on cue. No, that director was too full of himself. He had forgotten his place. He had neglected his people.
Someone had to call him to account.
Wait ‘til my father hears about this.
Yet even as he thought that, he knew it was an empty threat. His father would hear about the whole thing, but from Cathy’s perspective, which would leave out all the important reasons why David wasn’t just a rebel without a cause. Dad would see the whole thing as some kind of character building exercise. It was his father, after all, who just yesterday refused to let him use the car to go to a job he was going to lose anyway. To reinforce the point, he tossed him a silver dollar and told him to take the bus.
My father would use this whole thing as just another object lesson, David realized. He’d want to know why I didn’t just do as I was told. He’d probably be offended that I dropped his name like that. Within thirty seconds, he would have sided with both Cathy and the director, and then I’d get an earful about how much he’d sacrificed for me, how I was lucky to have gotten that job in the first place.
And that was the best-case scenario. David knew how unlikely it was that he could get his old man to sit still long enough to actually talk to him for more than a minute at a time. That was the way it always was. He could only remember one exception to the rule, and he tried not think about that time more than he had to.
So that was it, then. His father would be against him, just like everyone else. Just like all the people in their shiny, stupid cars, all of them stuck on the crowded streets, but none of them forced to take the bus like some shlep, like some toothless, grimy hobo. And that proved to be the final indignity that put him over the edge.
I’m David Chakiris, he thought, the ferocity of his feelings growing exponentially.
I’m David Chakiris, and I have to ride the bus.
As he struck the support of the freeway overpass, he felt his anger well up inside him, all of it channeling its way to the end of his arm as he lashed out in fury at an indifferent world. He felt his hand bulge, swell, and then nearly explode in size as it became a ten-ton, five-fingered sledgehammer, which felled the bridge pylon with a single blow.
David watched in amazement and horror as the overpass support crumbled, and the bridge above him came crashing down to the street in front of him. Piles of cars tumbled down as if dumped from the sky, creating a hideous dogpile of their own, filled with noise, fire, and twisted steel.
Cars were falling from above; cars were screeching below. People were yelling, crying, howling, and still the cars from above kept falling, falling, an endless rain of horror and chaos, punctuated by the sound of metal on metal as it crunched itself into an instant junkyard.
David scurried back toward the studio to avoid the maelstrom. A crowd was gathering, and no one seemed to notice the scrawny young man who had made it happen. The fog of smoke mirrored the fog of bedlam that had enveloped the unraveling scene. What had happened? Why had it happened? Who was responsible for this living nightmare?
Only David knew. And he knew it with perfect clarity. Once he was at a safe distance, he examined his hand, which had deflated back to its normal size. He couldn’t bring himself to pretend it was a dream, or that he had imagined his own culpability. He could still feel his hand engorged with size and strength and the impossible ease with which he had leveled the concrete support. The sensation was delicious. He could almost taste it.
A mother screamed. Maybe it wasn’t a mother. And are those police sirens or fire sirens? Is there a difference? David wondered. He found it odd that he would even consider such questions at a moment like this, and then found it doubly odd that he had the presence of mind to question his own questions.
There was much he didn’t know.
He didn’t know, for instance, how he had transformed his fist into a cudgel of such enormous power. He stared at his hand, flexed his fingers and bugged out his eyes, trying to will the hand to grow again, but nothing seemed to work.
So I don’t know how, but I did this, he said to himself. I made this happen.
That much I know. That much I can never forget.
He wasn’t sure which was more terrifying – the fact that he’d done this, or the fact that he enjoyed doing it, and that he wouldn’t take it back if he tried.
I did it, he thought over and over. I finally struck back. The world deserves this. That’s why I did it.
And I want to do it again.