From the safety of a sleek black car, Winter stared at her Living Theater, disturbed by a sudden onset of negative vibes.
“I’m not feeling it today,”she grumbled to herself.
Inside, actors were busy rehearsing, while crew members fiddled with sets, props, hair and makeup to prepare for the next shoot.
Eventually, Winter arrives, greeting the crew with well wishes of a wonderful afternoon. It didn’t matter how late it was when she arrived. By delegating tasks, Winter could sit back and relax, knowing the job would get done. Under her tutelage, whatever she asked of her cast and crew, they’d make it into a glorious performance.
However, she wasn’t a success yet, and waiting to make it big was the hardest part.
“If I could pay my way through life, I’d be Queen of Existence. But money only goes so far. I must do the rest, I suppose.”
Six months prior, Winter’s father gifted her one million dollars when she graduated from university. He instructed her to use the money sensibly and follow her dreams.
She did so with the purchase of a theater.
It was an affordable impulse buy, one in which Winter would make her moving pictures for the Emprise Movie Network. It was a start.
What captivated Winter the most about this theater was not only its massive size, but the generous square footage below it. During the initial changes to the theater, she set plans to renovate the underground portion as well to serve as her personal laboratory when the time came. For now, her movies for Emprise kept her busy. But the thought of the network made her ill, and the movies she helped create didn’t excite her.
Or maybe it was the strange scent she smelled.
Winter paused, holding her nose. She spun around on the hunt for the foul scent. “Smells like a creature of the sea…”
She walks and walks until she stumbled into a camera guy, whose sandwich slid down her blouse when they peel themselves away from each other. It’s stained with a streaky mix of the daily catch, mayo, onion, sweet relish, and chunks of hard-boiled eggs.
The flop the bread makes when it smacked the floor broke through her shocked stare. He ruined her blouse. It took everything in Winter not to scream. Yet when their eyes meet, Winter’s face sours further.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry—I’m so, so sorry. Let me clean this up for you. I’ll get your assistant.” The nervous camera guy says and takes off.
Winter snaps her fingers, stopping him in his tracks. She holds up a long finger, motioning him over. “No need, she’s not here,” her lip quivered.
“Miss Velia, my apologies—”
“Don’t talk about her. Old news. Let’s talk about your camera angles instead. I’m not a fan of the technique you’ve been using, it’s dated and boring. We need to be more innovative for the next project. Give me that napkin.” She wipes her blouse off. “We should show their trauma by bringing them back to the places that caused them pain, see? So, when you shoot, make sure their arms stay crossed, and they keep a constant look of discontent; reliving tragic memories should not be a joyous experience.”
The cameraman tossed the rest of his sandwich. He keeps a firm pace alongside Winter’s brisk walk around the theater.
“Film them from multiple angles. We need to be close enough to count nose hairs. Go to a home goods store. Get some stock photos of happy families and shatter the frames they came in. I want to line them along the mantle, to evoke that broken family feeling.”
Winter motioned for a refreshment. The crew presents a glass of bubbly blue liquid to her on a black platter. She drinks it in one gulp then watches actress Honey Sun read lines with the Boy Next Door, and elite Actor Ethan Dust, Winter’s favorite.
“Honey, please come here,” Winter said.
Ethan smirked, “Uh oh,” he whispered. Honey rolls two unconcerned, wide brown eyes.
“Honey Sun, you’re very pleased today. Was there a funny joke I missed?”
“We were talking about the Abigail Sweet news, about the King’s advisor. It’s juicy.”
“Allegations… against Arthur Mandegar?”
Winter gasps, bracing the chair arms in shock. “I didn’t read this news in my gossip report this morning. Why wasn’t I informed?” she wished Honey had told her a funny joke instead.
“It just came out. There’s some crazy stuff she blames him for. There’s talk of strange photos and a cult. He always looked like a dirty snake. Now he matches the one in his pants. A full interview with Abigail will be on Emprise tonight.”
Winter sat back in her chair, the same feeling of not feeling whatever ‘it’ was reemerged.
“Go see the hair unit and tell them to give you bangs.”
“… But Miss Velia, I just grew my hair back out. Last time I had bangs, everyone joked I looked like a mop with a mouth.”
“Good. You can clean up your act and your foul thoughts about my dear friend Arthur Mandegar, youngest advisor to our King.”
“But… I don’t—”
“You will. Do I need to escort you?”
Last time Winter escorted someone somewhere, they never returned. Honey must have remembered. She didn’t say another word beyond a shake of head and forced a smile.
“Before you go, a little advice; your dialogue in the last act is very wordy and some of our audience may think you’re too smart so you’ll have to up speak. Oh — and don’t forget, wear the glasses with the clear circle frames. I’m getting mysterious-sexy-nerd vibes from you. Go see hair so my vision can come to fruition.”
Honey ran to the hair unit where a team stood in wait, each armed with scissors.
“Hey you, come here. Nah, not you. Him,” Winter motioned to a young man in love with his phone. He looks up, surprised.
“You’ll be the Anti This and That guy. Imagine sitting in your room all day, arms crossed, divorced parents; you wear all black, you never smile, you shit on others for the same things you do behind closed doors. Hmm, makeup please!”
She waved her hand in the air. A crew member approached from behind. Without her assistant, Winter put everyone to work.
“This is Anti This and That guy. I’m feeling Mission to Mars vibes, so get some acne along his chin and right cheek. His hair needs to be darker, dye it black. Not the flat, boring black, I want that space mystery black hole kind of black. He needs to drip like a bad boy. And have someone bring me news about the Arthur Mandegar situation.”
The hair unit met him with an encouraging pat on the back.
“Say goodbye to that wispy blond hair,” Winter called. A flash of worry swept across his face. He shuffled off. “Okay, now where’s the hero, where’s my hero…” she clicked her hot pink tongue.
“I can be your hero, Miss Winter.” Ethan Dust remarked with intriguing confidence.
He was the only one allowed to call his boss by her first name. He stood in the distance; a smile planted for miles across his handsome face.
Winter huffed playfully when she looks at him; her olive-green cheeks turn a rosy hue like a pulsating red light.
“Ethan Dust, you’re too kind. You’re a Jorge Award-winning actor. I couldn’t ask you to partake in such a lower than life role,” Winter said.
“We all know Ethan didn’t deserve the Jorge.” The Boy Next Door interrupted. “Why is he even here? Ethan Dust is a—OW!”
The Boy crumbled to the floor, afflicted by an invisible assailant. He clutched his ankle, broken like a snapped toothpick. He howled in pain over Ethan’s stifled laughter.
“Winter? I heard a ruckus. Are you rehearsing?”
The businessman’s arrival takes Winter by surprise as he studied the cast with intense interest, as if displayed for purchase.
“Hi,” she reemerged beside him and kissed his cheek. He wrinkled his nose at the tuna-stain on her blouse and murmured greetings back. His eyes are locked on the cast.
“We were rehearsing, I have a film for Emprise Movie Network. It’s your average tale of mental anguish and youthful melodrama. It’s easy money, but it’s so boring. Plus, my cast is acting up, or maybe I’ve grown tired of them. Can you get me replacements, please?”
Mr. Velia’s jade hands fall to his hips. One of his cap-toe walnut-colored oxfords tapped the floor. He’s dressed in a navy suit, crisp shirt and tie, a standard uniform she’d known him to wear all her life and hardly ever seen in anything else.
“Winter—” Mr. Velia eyed the Boy Next Door, who cried into a tissue as soft as he could while a doctor and nurse tended to his broken leg.
Mr. Velia shushed them away and picked him up with his gloved hand; he’s held at his waist by his index finger and thumb. “Good grief! What happened to this one? He’s mangled!”
The Boy Next Door dangles in Mr. Velia’s delicate grasp. His body sways in front of Winter’s large spectacles.
She looks down at Ethan. He looks up at her and shrugs, mouthing an apology.
“Mistakes were made. Ethan got offended.” Winter said.
Mr. Velia grumbled. “You cannot allow Mr. Dust to get away with his mind tricks in your Living Theater. He’s too dangerous if left unchecked.” With care, he set the Boy Next Door down onto the bed. “And I will not give you any other Humans if you can’t care for these. His injuries are serious.”
She sighed, exasperated. “With Ethan, if we made him—”
“I know your feelings for him, but we’ve spoken about this at length before. Mr. Dust’s kind differs from the average human, and one mustn’t play favorites, not when you’re the boss. Treat them with respect but don’t get too close, or they’ll take advantage of you. These are intelligent beings.”
“Daddy…” Winter whispered. She turned her back to the cast so they couldn’t hear. She looked at her father with pleading hands. “I like him a lot. Perhaps if we made him like us…?”
Mr. Velia stared hard at Ethan. “Assuming our gain of function efforts continue to progress, maybe, maybe we could take another look at Mr. Dust. I’ll think about it, but I’m not making any guarantees, none!”
“Thank you, Daddy! If I were in your employ, I’d help your team reach those efforts at warp speed. You know how powerful my abilities are. Let me in Velia Inc.”
“I cannot have you on staff, not right now, at least. Enjoy the freedoms you have here to use your abilities for experimentation. Speaking of which, have you decided on a name yet for your new lab? Renovations will be finished in one more week. Good news, huh?”
“I was thinking of Winter’s Secret.”
She felt confident about that name and imagined all the things she could do in the laboratory, unrestrained and unseen. It was only a matter of time.
“Winter’s Secret…” Mr. Velia’s said as his hand sweeps the air.
“I love it. Why don’t you join me for lunch? I gained a chef from our Earth discoveries; he’s known for some remarkable dishes I’ve been eager to try for days I think you’d enjoy.”
A crew member hands Winter a fresh gossip report. Mr. Velia peeks over her shoulder, reviewing a summary of the advisor’s alleged offenses.
“Mm. Mm. Mm.” Mr. Velia raised one of his dark, caterpillar-like brows. “Advisor Mandegar is in quite a predicament. Miss Sweet will look to sue for damages, I’m sure. This won’t fare well for the King’s health either. It may be an interesting time to dip our claws into the Crown finally.”
“Maybe. What did you have in mind?”
“Remember how old the King is? I heard he’s on his way out, if you know what I mean, with a very young, handsome, mysterious heir waiting to take the throne. I can’t think of a better Twister like you to serve our future King. Put these Living Theater toys aside, not forever, just for now. Once the Crown is in our debt, I’ll let you into Velia. You have my word.”
Winter paused. Working for her father’s company was the last item on her bucket list she desired to reach one day. Now she had his word.
She looks over at her crew. “You’re right. It’s time to put my toys away.”
Retrieving an orb of shifting blue, pink, and purple colors from her pants pocket, she throws it onto the set. The cast is thrust into a pulsing light until dissolved, like a candle gently wafted to rest. Cast, crew, doctor, nurse, and Boy Next Door equipped with a blue cast around his leg, reappear as porcelain figurines, fragile, silent and still.
“The day the curtain closed in the Living Theater.” Mr. Velia whispered.
“I’ll phone Arthur after lunch.”
“Good. I’ll meet you in five minutes. I have to make a quick call.” Mr. Velia smiled. “You know, the advisor would be a fool to turn your help down.” He hugged her tight, careful not to mess up her wavy black purple-blue hair before walking off.
“A dead fool.” A familiar voice called from the distance.
Winter kneeled for a closer look at the set. Ethan stepped from behind the red curtains.
“Ready to infiltrate the Crown?” Winter asked.
She lowered her palm onto the stage, Ethan climbed into her hand. He stared at her with a smirk. He smirks a lot. Maybe too much, Winter thought.
“Of course, I’d do anything to be with you.”
“Hmm.” Winter remarked as she set Ethan back down. His emphasis on ‘you‘ made her squirm. “This is cheesy. I’m not feeling it anymore.”
Winter throws her orb on set and turned away, unable to watch the light take Ethan Dust whole. When finished, she places her porcelain people away on a display shelf, one by one.
It wouldn’t be forever, but her chest lightened completely when she let them go.
She was feeling it.