The Wrong Elevator – Karter Mycroft
March 31, 2021
some of my best friends are pools
You are on set at the hotel plaza, you are confused and it’s storming. You’re wearing a swimsuit and mountains of makeup. The crew has set up lights and booms and cameras and a table of triangle-cut sandwiches soaked with rain. You dip your toes in the pool. It’s cold and full of dead leaves.
Your costar Brittney is already in the water. You haven’t met before. Casting to shooting went so fast you hardly remember how you got here. The empty hotel rises behind you like a luxury tombstone. It must have been very expensive to rent the whole thing even if you’re shooting the entire movie in one day.
Thunder rolls over the ocean ahead. A cockroach bolts across ceramic tiles and takes cover under the Director’s trailer.
It’s almost time. You summon the strength of a hundred bit roles and tell yourself you’re ready. The Director emerges with a megaphone and a red gascan. She gestures for you and Brittney to take your places. Rain continues to fall. She grabs a wet sandwich off the table and mushes it into a ball in her hands and eats it in one bite.
there’s no biz like showbiz
The feature’s working title is Elevator Music and not even the Director knows why. She claims she wrote the script this morning. We’ll do one shot per scene she says, and every second of footage will end up in the movie. Try to forget your lines she says, that’s all part of the magic.
Her last film won awards and when she cast you in this one you realized your entire life had been leading to this. Your first lead role and the start of the rest of your life. No more instant rice and car commercials. She’s going to make you a star.
Scene One takes place in the pool. You and Brittney are starcrossed lovers reunited on a tropical vacation where you are to find yourselves in some sort of interpersonal as well as external conflict. It’s hard to remember the details. You only had ten minutes to read the script.
The Director slides into her chair during a strobe of lightning. She says Action!
You’ve never had so many cameras on you at once. You try to focus. You’re sitting on the lip of the pool with your shins submerged and Brittney’s chinned up beside you.
She opens the scene: No wonder this place was so goddamn cheap. I’ll be surprised if the elevators work.
It’s not what you remember being her first line. You memorized yours at least.
It’s been five years and it feels like yesterday.
Someone holds a fuzzy boom above your heads and Brittney launches into a monologue. You don’t recognize it. You’re supposed to be establishing your relationship but she’s launching into some dense theoretical tangent with nothing to do with anything you remember about the film’s plot and with every word the storm seems to worsen and you feel like its target.
It’s something about the vestiges of imperialism inherent to resort tourism: But then colonialism is essentially Dadaistic. At some point you have to separate art from artist don’t you think.
She brushes your leg. You realize this is your cue. There’s panic between you and your lines.
Ah well um. It’s so strange seeing you again. When you called and said you booked this trip I thought I was on some prank show.
Brittney cocks her head.
The Director megaphones through the rain: No no. You’re overthinking it. Shit. We’ll have to use that. And with a flick of her wrist: All right keep going.
You try to resume the scene but are interrupted before you catch Brittney’s eye.
A great white flash cracks open the sky. You’re deafblind for a moment. Everyone’s staggering and shouting except the Director. The cameraman across the pool is flat on his back on a rat’s nest of wires. Smoke rises from his blackened chest.
Don’t worry, says the Director. Just testing some special effects. Keep rolling!
fish often are trouble
The next act starts in a hurricane. Fronds and debris batter the lawn. The cast swells and shrinks. Men in rubber overalls walk on camera and leave. A stampede of extras surges from nowhere onto the beach.
You follow. As you cross the wet sand Brittney delivers some lines about storms. The camera zooms into her from over your shoulder and she says did you know the statistics on lightning strikes are fucked up.
You always hear how unlikely it is to die of a lightning strike. But they don’t include the fires. If you count the deaths not only from the strikes but from all the wildfires and short circuits they cause it’s really not so uncommon.
By the time you reach the beach you’re completely off script. The ocean rages over the sand and wrecked umbrellas and the wind whips palms like blades of grass. It’s pouring rain and you’re worried about the cameras but the Director is fearless. On the pier Brittney introduces you to a pair of bearded fishermen.
What’s this about? asks Fisher #1 in a voice of gravel and brine.
Meet our savior, says Brittney.
Really? This one?
You nod in a way you hope looks like acting. You feel out of your league. The others seem more comfortable. Much better actors than you.
Good timing, grunts Fisher #2. Cameras turn to him. His rod dips and he swears and grits and reels and with great effort he pulls up a stingray. He holds it high like a baby. Lightning clarifies mucosal flesh. It flaps and thrashes its deadly barb in the rain. Fins pulse in upward curls seeking the weight of a sea no longer there. It’s beautiful in a way. It moves by smiling.
He hands it to you and you grip its slimy fins and the mouth on its stomach makes breathless kissing motions and its tail could reach you if it wanted.
Cut! shouts the Director. That was fucking brilliant.
She bounds across the pier. Cameras shift and realign around her like they are extensions of her, external cybernetics, big looming antennae.
Really brilliant, she whispers in your ear. You’ve brought such life to this scene.
I have? you choke out. You can’t take your eyes off that whipping little halberd in striking distance of your exposed stomach.
Oh yes. The Director points toward the hotel. They’re going to love you.
There’s something about the feeling of carpet on wet feet that exists beyond time and space as though every moment of post-pool hotel is the same moment happening forever. You’re reminded of childhoods past and future. Arcades and precoital stumbles, all equalized. You pad through the empty lobby and down a shroom-pattern hall toward the lift. Chandelier light sharpens into white fluorescents. Only one camera on you now. The Director’s own. You’re doing all this in a single shot.
You’re gripping the ray from behind, fingernails tight on the sides of its mouth. Its thrashing has not calmed. You could catch the barb at any moment. You tell yourself to use the fear. Channel panic into performance. You hear the muted cacophony of the weather outside as you step into the elevator with the Director and the Director’s camera.
You ascend slowly through creaks and metal moans. She walks a circle around you and the stingray. You can smell it now, away from the sea. Flesh and salt death. Around the fifth floor the Director gestures with her hands. A cue.
You have no idea what to say or to whom. You talk to the stingray: Hang in there big guy.
The Director smiles.
On the fifteenth floor the elevator stops. She shoots over your shoulder as the doors groan open.
The room is filled with ferns and steam and a woman with blue hair in an untied kimono and several men in bright blue suits and sunglasses. One of them points out a huge plastic tote on the floor full of water. Slowly and carefully you set the stingray in the tank. It settles and gratefully wags its fins. It is hard to imagine who will watch this movie.
The Director nudges you. You have a line here. It’s important. The line to make the movie a memory, your frankly my dear, you’re gonna need a bigger boat. You clear your throat. You’re an actor. If you can’t play the scene then what good are you?
I must have taken the wrong elevator.
The man with the aquarium winces. He glances at the woman in the kimono. She looks up from the stingray and frowns. She starts shouting in a language you don’t understand.
The men snap to action. They shuffle and putter incoherently. The Director mutters the word subtitle and swivels around you and points the camera directly in your face. You’re not sure whether you should look concerned or satisfied or confused. She ushers you back into the elevator. As the doors close you catch a final glimpse of the stingray. The woman in the kimono is petting it and grinning and giggling with joy.
You wait for the Director to say Cut! but she doesn’t. She keeps rolling and the floors count down on geologic time and the carpet feels coarse. Your feet aren’t wet anymore. At the bottom the doors open to three uniformed policemen with guns drawn.
You’re in cuffs. You’re crying because the scene calls for it and because you can’t help it. You’re kneeling on carpet in your swimsuit. All three cops are screaming at once.
When did you arrive on the island?
How much do you know about demersal myliobatoids?
Where exactly on the ventrolateral groove is the venom stored?
What specific toxins are present? Cystatins? Galectin? Peroxifuckingredoxins?
And so on. You have no answers. There was nothing in the script about stingrays.
Eventually they lead you outside. The tropical storm has abated to a pulsing drizzle, a heartbeat of rain. Brittney is walking along the lawn spilling some clear liquid from a large red can. In the distance the sea confuses itself against a muddy beach. The pool is mostly debris.
The cops say they’re taking you someplace very dark. You break. You can’t act anymore. The scene, the shoot is over for you. You squint through tears at the Director. She’s still holding the camera.
I’m sure that’s not necessary officer.
We agreed. Someone’s going down for this.
But certainly it can wait until after we wrap.
Your eyes dart from cops to Director. You bulldoze the fourth wall. You shout into her camera: What do you mean after? Is this not part of the movie?
The Director flashes stormy teeth. The cops uncuff you and step back. You shiver and drip with tears and tropic rain.
I’m leaving, you say. Where are my clothes I’m leaving.
The Director springs forward and grabs you hard on the crotch. She squeezes cold nails through your swimsuit into your skin. Her breath like wet concrete. She hisses: you wanted this. You wanted exactly this. Don’t ever fuck with my set again. She shoves you aside and spits. Lights!
Brittney drops a match and the lawn erupts. Flames spread vascular across the grass and scorch the concrete around the pool and ruin the strewn equipment and lick at the trailer and roar across the pool snatching greedily at palms. It spreads and surrounds you. The cops watch and nod in quiet approval. The Director is beaming: now this is a climax. Camera!
She lifts her hands and her machines rise through the flames and octopus-curl in the air and the lenses tighten behind the steam of eaten rain and all the sky is fire and metal and molten film and every Red and Arri and DSLR is trained on you.
She shoves a fire extinguisher into your arms. Action—