This book starts this way…
It all started before Halloween. He had decided to film a YouTube horror movie with his buddies and the kids in the neighborhood.
She screamed in terror.
He chuckled devilishly. It was exciting to see her pale face lose all its composure. So much fun to see the terror in her bulging eyes.
“I need someone like you,” he growled, slowly moving his hairy hands in her direction. “Someone easy to eat and chew and chop the head off.”
Again she screamed, tears welling up in her eyes as she ran down the street, her Halloween candy flying all over the place.
“It’s the Chou!” she screamed. “Run! It’s the Chou!” The kids down the street ran in all direction, fear on their young faces, away from a gory, disgusting alien freak with a huge gash in his head full of live maggots and green goo.
He was back.
Back for more candy, kids and scares.
Fade to Black.
End of Episode 1.
What he wasn’t expecting was to be enrolled in a film school shortly after his video went viral. Maybe it had to do with the final episode when things got out of hand and he ended blowing up part of a cemetery and destroying a vintage 1921 Lincoln Model L that belonged to film legend Rodolfo Valentino which was stationed next to his crypt.
Bobby Chou walked across the graveyard, his arm wrapped around Eva who was shivering from the chilly breeze that swept across the tombstones. Each was carrying a long wooden staff in their hands. The Chou also carried a large backpack on his shoulder.
“It was here that it all began,” she whispered.
He nodded and held her closer.
“What if it all starts over again?” she said, her voice trembling.
“Tonight we will make sure that doesn’t happen. What began, shall soon end,” the Chou pointed out, dramatically. “We have to lock the entrance with our staffs, the golden padlock, and the goat blood.”
He shook his wooden staff that had an ornate silver handle. The wind suddenly picked up and dried leaves whirled around them, rustling and whistling and beckoning the spirits to come out from the world below.
“Are you sure this will work?” Eva shouted, terrified.
“There is no other way to end this menace. We have to lock the crypt and stop the evil spirits from escaping from the underworld.”
“What about the Guardian of the Crypt? That Monster can eat us alive!”
As they got closer to the crypt, the earth shook around them. In the distance, the cemetery doors rattled and a night owl let out an eerie screech.
“I’ll distract the Monster,” the Chou said. He opened his backpack and took out a drone.
“A drone? The Monster will chew it up!”
“That’s fine with me, because it has a hidden explosive charge that’ll blast it to kingdom come,” the Chou explained, proudly.
“The spirits in the crypt will hear the blast and rush out.”
“That’s why we have to rapidly seal the doors with the blood, the staffs and the golden padlock of Aradia,” the Chou said. “Once it’s sealed, they will return to the underworld; they will never bother us again.” He took out an old golden padlock with key from his backpack and gave it to Eva. “You know what you have to do.”
They stopped behind another crypt and peeked around the corner. A terrifying looking Monster was guarding the entrance to the crypt. It had a short, stocky and gnarled body crowned by a massive bald head that seemed to have more fangs than anything else. Two red slits as eyes gave it an ominous, comic Manga look, and in place of a nose, it had two small black, hairy slits. It’s body full of red thorns and green welts, slowly turned one way then another, like an automatic fan, guarding against any intruder who would be foolish enough to try and mess with his powerful jaws and razor sharp claws.
The Chou put the drone in motion. It hovered a few foot above the ground; then, using a holographic joystick, he sent it flying towards the crypt.
“We don’t have much time,” Eva urged.
As the drone approached the crypt, the Monster tensed and turned to face it. It gnarled in a deep voice that sounded like the rumble of a rockfall. The drone swerved in and begin to zigzag erratically; the Monster swiftly lashed out with its claws. It was like a beast trying to catch a pesky fly. The drone finally made it into the crypt followed by the angry monster.
“Now!” the Chou shouted to Eva.
They both ran to the crypt entrance and slammed shut the heavy iron doors. The Chou grabbed both staffs while Eva took out the gourd with goat blood and the golden padlock. He placed the first staff through the two cast iron door brackets that were on either side of the doors. From the other side, the Monster reacted and crashed against the door, almost breaking the first staff in two. It cracked a little. The Chou rapidly inserted the next staff through the cast iron rings as the Monster clawed through the slim crack between the doors and almost cut the staff in two were it not for the silver handles that were in the middle of the staff. It roared inside in frustration and charged again and again. The iron door rattled and its hinges screeched with every crash.
“Hurry! Put the padlock!”
Eva placed the shackle on the heavy duty iron latch as the Monster rammed against the door. She screamed and fell backwards and the padlock key fell from her hands and rolled next to the crack between the door. She was about to reach for it when the Chou yanked her arm away as a Monster claw jutted from inside and almost ripped into her flesh. The Chou snatched the key and locked the golden padlock of Aradia as the Monster again crashed against the door. It was about to give!
Eva grabbed the gourd and splashed the goat blood on the padlock and the door. The Monster screeched in rage and took several steps backwards. It regained its breath, collected its strength and was ready to ram the door for one last time.
“He’s going to ram the door again!” Eva screamed. “It’s not going to hold!”
“The drone!” the Chou shouted. He grabbed the control and pressed a red button.
“Run! It’s going to explode!” the Chou shouted. He grabbed Eva and they dashed out of the cemetery. Upon reaching the gates they heard a loud explosion that lit up the night sky.
That’s when the steering wheel from Valentino’s 1921 Lincoln Model L landed on the tombstone statue of a famous Hollywood Chihuahua and cut its head off.
Fade to Black.
That was the end of the clip that Bobby Chou had recorded with his friends. It seemed like a unique ending, even though the family of the headless Chihuahua’s was quite upset when the missing stone head of their deceased mascot ended up being sold on eBay for 5000 dollars.
It wasn’t long, after their final edit, that the movie made the social network rounds and gathered a following that surprised many. It was then that the film school came knocking at his door, expressing an interest in having him as a full-time student.
“Yes,” his father said. “It is one of the most prestigious film schools in the world.”
“I never heard of a film school for middle grade and high school kids? Isn’t it usually for college guys?”
His father smiled mysteriously under his graying beard. “This is a special school for the gifted cinematographers, directors, scriptwriters, anybody involved in the business of making moving pictures. Your mother and I both attended this film school.”
“Mom, never mentioned it.”
“You were not ready. She also wanted to be here to break the news to you, but she had to leave urgently this morning to shoot some rare footage for that documentary she is producing. She’ll call you tonight. I also have a film shoot coming up and I might have to leave for a few days.”
People in the film business were always travelling; his parents were no exception.
“Who’s going to take care of us?” By us, he was also referring to his little sister Wendy. She was a typical 5th grader, smart as a peach, the supreme tattletale of the house, always trying to act older than her age, even though she still held on to Mister Cuddly in her bed.
His lean father rubbed his hand over the birthmark on his bald head and gave him a stern look. “Igone will be in charge. And I mean in charge, which means you have to obey her orders, study, no goofing around, no late-night video games and no wild parties in this house.”
“Igone!” She was a 50 year old woman from the Basque country in Spain; she was as tough as a rusty old war ship; she reminded the Chou of Popeye the Sailorman. “She always stinks the house with her baby eels fried in garlic.”
“Are you complaining? Your sister and you eat everything she cooks.”
“If we don’t, she’ll clobber us,” the Chou joked. Maybe he was not stronger than Igone, but he was taller and faster on his feet if she chased after him.
His father smiled; he didn’t want to continue on the subject and quickly pointed out: “You will like this film school, it will teach you to construct your fantasies from scratch and create worlds you never imagined.”
“Maybe a little more realistic.”
“What if I don’t want to go to this school. What if I want to be a professional soccer player playing for Barcelona or a chef on the French Riviera or a business tycoon in New York City?” The Chou had an athletic body, but he was not a big sports fanatic, nor did he really care about money.
“You are free to choose whatever career you want.”
“Yes, of course. But you have to choose wisely. Choose what you know you will be good at and what stirs your passion. Do you really think you could make a good bouillabaisse?”
“Bouillabaisse, a French fish stew made in the south of France. You have to know these things if you want to be a chef in the south of France.”
“Can’t I fry some French fries instead?”
His father chuckled. “I think this film school will be good for you.”
“I don’t want to change schools. I don’t want to leave my friends, and I know my way around the teachers. I even know how to deal with the Principal and—”
“Eva will be going to this film school this coming semester,” his father interrupted.
The Chou froze, and then twitched nervously; he let out a small, dry cough.
“So?” he said, trying to look disinterested.
“So . . . do you want to play soccer for Barcelona?”
“On second thought, I’m not really a fan of that team.”
“Do you want to be a rich tycoon on Wall Street?”
“Money, bah, it just brings trouble.”
“We ruled out the chef.”
“So . . .?” his father inquired.
“As you said, choose what you know you will be good at. I know I’ll make a great director one day.”
His father smiled knowingly. “You have chosen wisely.”
The Chou made a funny, half grimacing face. “I wonder if I did,” he said.
The strange thing about the school was its location. One would have thought it was located in the usual community area reserved for schools, but this school was located in a nearby industrial district, in the middle of a large abandoned studio lot. The school was surrounded by empty stages, run down streets that where once used for shooting New York, Hong Kong, Paris or Western scenes, and an old movie theatre — The Studio Palace — constructed by architect Robert Anshen in the mid 1950’s.
On his first day at the Film School, he had to go through the traditional rite of initiation. He was aware that this cruel hazing practice would eventually determine his status in school and if he failed miserably, he would be ridiculed and mocked for the rest of his freshman year. What he wasn’t expecting was something quite different from eating the usual can of worms with hot sauce washed down with toilet bowl water.
His initiation was on the stage of The Studio Palace in front of a full seated audience. A senior class student placed him on a high chair on stage, facing everybody.
“To be part of this school, you have to have imagination, you have to have a vision, you have to be able to improvise,” the student pointed out in dramatic fashion.” If your answers are not satisfactory, you will be pelted by hundreds of tomatoes from the audience. So, watch your words.”
“But what am I supposed to say?!”
“Here’s an example. When I say: ‘Some people are worth melting for,’ you say . . .?”
“Olaf, from Frozen!”
“Right! Answer every word they throw at you with a film reference. Be quick, be cool, good luck.” And he was gone, leaving the Chou alone in front of hundreds of glaring eyes.
The art of improvisation.
His father had once told him: “Capture the Muse and let yourself go, don’t hold back.”
He had to react, fast, and he had to be witty or he would look like a fool. Fortunately, his knowledge of film history was pretty much up to date thanks to his family’s subscription to American Cinematographer, Cinefex, Variety and the TCM magazine.
He also had to avoid the tomatoes because he had put on his cool vintage Spaceballs T-shirt which he saved for special occasions when he wanted to make a statement. Nobody understood what statement he wanted to make. Nobody remembered or cared about Spaceballs, a spoof about Star Wars directed by Mel Brooks. No time for that now; he breathed in deeply, he had to exhume confidence and show them that he was ready for the test.
Somebody in the back shouted: “Tomato!”
“Tomato?” he repeated, confused.
That’s when they pelted him with hundreds of ripe tomatoes. His Spaceballs were now ripe for the picking.
Everybody rushed out of the theater, laughing and joking, with the exception of an old man with a shock of white hair, seated in the middle of the third row.
“I’ll say tomato and you’ll say tomahto, would have been a good answer,” he said. “Fred and Ginger from Shall We Dance.” He was dressed in an elegant dark brown tweed jacket, beige flannel pants, a light blue cotton shirt and a red butterfly silk tie that was badly balanced, it was twisted to one side. The proper image of a professor.
The Chou wiped tomato pulp from his eyes and shook his head – it would have been better to eat the can of worms with hot sauce washed down with toilet bowl water.
“I was not expecting such a quick and violent reaction,” the Chou said.
“They, on the other hand, were expecting you to falter. Don’t be discouraged, you are not the only one who has gone through the tomato ritual; there have been quite a few today who have fallen for that simple line.”
“I thought a school like this would have a more sophisticated initiation ritual.”
“That’s because you missed the lesson here – the importance of what one line can make in front of an audience. One word, one line, can change everything. I’m sure there is one line in your young life that has stood out above all others.”
“Yes, you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose,” he answered rapidly in case the old man had a tomato hidden away.
The professor got up, clapping and walked up to the stage.
“That is a good line, Mr. Chou. Dr. Seuss. Well done. I can’t say you passed this first test, but it’s a beginning. I’m professor Meisner.”
He shook the professor’s hand, a cold hand that seemed to be dead. “Glad to meet you.”
“Welcome to Film High.”
The Chou smiled nervously, then pondered: “First test?”
The Professor just chuckled and led him backstage and pointed at a mop and a bucket full of water.
He glanced back at the stage full of ripe tomatoes everywhere. The professor nodded and winked at him, and he was gone.
The Chou sighed and got to work, humming a tune that somehow had gotten stuck in his head. A remnant of the past when he would cuddle with his parents and watch Turner Classic Movies.
“You like tomato and I like tomahto;
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!”