from Vital Fluid
by Tom Bradley
EXT. KANSAS RODEO CORRAL - SUNSET
A scratchy old recording of "Great Balls of Fire" plays full-blast on tin speakers.
A crowd of small-town FOLKS sits in the stands, spellbound.
In the middle of the corral, where bulls and steers normally stomp around, a husky farm-boy named BIFF impersonates Jerry Lee Lewis. Using an upturned water trough as a piano, Biff's performance is uncanny. He lip-synchs the words perfectly and his fingers follow Jerry Lee's piano riffs exactly. Strangest of all, though, his eyes are shut, and he seems unaware of his own presence in the corral.
A man stands off to one side dressed in an electric-blue tux with a plum satin cummerbund. This is PHIL DEACON, "the World's Greatest Stage Hypnotist," according to a glittery placard propped nearby.
He's thirty-five years old, tallish, slim, and kindly. Phil has a good baritone speaking voice that he tones down, making it somewhat flat and nasal, to avoid intimidating his audience.
He switches off the music.
(into a microphone)
Okay, well done. When I snap my fingers, you will no longer be Jerry Lee Lewis. You'll go back to being Biff. You'll feel calm and relaxed ...
Phil snaps his fingers.
Biff seems shocked when he sees the Folks staring at him in amazement. When they burst into applause, he clambers over the corral and skedaddles across an alfalfa field. Biff then heads west, toward the setting sun and Main Street, which stretches along two blocks at the far edge of the field.
After the gas station, the town's most conspicuous building is The Bijou, a little movie theater straight from the forties. Through deepening sunset shadows, the MANAGER unlocks the front door.
But Phil's not looking across the field at Main Street. He stares at his audience instead.
He listens to their cheers and realizes for the first time what a great show it's been. He was so bored, he didn't notice.
Wasn't that fantastic, ladies and gentlemen? Biff's a splendid lad, but you know as well as I that he couldn't have given us such a stellar performance without a little help. And where did that help come from? I'll tell you where. Inside his own head. In the same place where every human being has limitless stores of talent and energy, which most of us are never aware of, and ...
The Folks have stopped listening. They're vacating the stands.
(into the microphone)
... and you're abandoning me faster than most sod-busters do. Must be time to change the filters in your backyard meth labs.
Nobody heard that, and Phil's not surprised. But he is puzzled at the speediness of this particular mass exit.
He turns and sees that The Bijou has switched on its lights for the evening. According to the marquee, tonight's feature is:
MeL gIBbSUns pASiON OfF ChRIzt
He watches the Folks make their pilgrimage through the alfalfa stubble to The Bijou.
Only one person remains.
Hulking by the beer concession is a very large, middle-aged woman with strange vacuum-eyes. She wears a black bra under a loose tank top, and a faded tattoo between her deflated breasts makes her cleavage look like a seismic crack in a granite wall. Her whole big body is flexed, like a single anguished muscle, and she stares at Phil with a mindless kind of appetite.
This is the BIG WEIRD WOMAN. Phil knows her all too well and averts his eyes.
EXT. INTERSTATE HIGHWAY - THE NEXT DAY
Phil's car speeds along the ruler-straight road, cutting across the prairie, toward the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. He's trying to make it to his next gig on time.
INT. PHIL'S CAR
Phil reaches into the back seat and grabs a well-worn old book: The Life and Times of LaFontaine the Mesmerizer.
Steering with his right hand, he holds the book in his left and begins reading. Moving his eyes back and forth from the page to the road, Phil gradually spends more time reading than driving.
The needle on his speedometer climbs ever closer to eighty.
INT. PARIS OPERA HOUSE - EVENING
It's 1874, and LAFONTAINE is staging one of his usual triumphs.
Huge and perfect, a demigod with a mountain of shining black curls on his head, he stands on the stage of the freshly built Paris Opera House.
The place is a marvel of neo-baroque opulence, with marble statues, jewel-studded arches, crystal chandeliers and gold-leafed pillars gleaming everywhere. The vast dome overhead features a fresco of God in Heaven being serenaded by hundreds of plump, rosy angels.
Several PRINCES are in the audience, along with MARQUISES, DUCHESSES, and various other continental glitterati, each dressed more beautifully than the next.
It's a capacity crowd, and they're all on their feet, loudly expressing their amazement, and their love, for Monsieur LaFontaine, the greatest of all mesmerizers.
INT. PHIL'S CAR - DAY
Doing eighty now, Phil has dropped the book and removed his hand from the steering wheel.
He has mentally traveled across the Atlantic and back in time, and now shares the soul of LaFontaine.
Phil becomes LaFontaine in the same way Biff became Jerry Lee Lewis: he lip-synchs LaFontaine's eloquent voice, mirrors his facial expressions, and mimics his grand gestures to perfection.
Phil's shuts his eyes as tightly as Biff's, and the car speeds along.
INT. PARIS OPERA HOUSE - EVENING
LaFontaine bows gracefully as red roses rain down on him. He waves massive, white-gloved hands through the air like a magician or a priest.
Stretched out before him is a lovely young NOBLEWOMAN, completely under his power. She looks like an angel in a white satin gown, and LaFontaine has her body suspended between two intricately carved rosewood chairs that touch only the back of her neck and her ankles.
You hear only my voice ...
EXT. PRAIRIE INTERSTATE - DAY
The flat-lands lurch into the foothills of the Rockies.
Your will is not your own but has merged with the vital fluid that emanates from my mind ...
Phil's car is heading straight for an outcrop of granite.
INT. PHIL'S CAR
Universal forces hold your astral body in suspension, like a pearl dissolved in ocean water ...
With grace worthy of LaFontaine, Phil regains control just in time and penetrates the canyons of Colorado.
EXT. SUBURBAN DENVER HIGH SCHOOL - SAME DAY
High-country, right-wing FUNDAMENTALISTS picket Phil's appearance at a student assembly. They carry signs equating him with Satan, Osama bin Laden, and Bill Clinton.
A local TV NEWS CREW is on the scene. The reporter, CANDY, is a happy-talker in her early twenties.
Speak of the devil, here, um, he is ...
(fumbling with her notes)
Phil Dinkum, the World's Greatest Magician! Welcome to the Denver area, Mr. Dingus!
Someone hits Cindy with an egg intended for Phil.
I didn't know sawing ladies in half could be so controversial.
He pauses to consider whether he wants to deal with Candy further. When the demonstrators surge forward and knock the CAMERAMAN down, he makes his decision and moves toward the school.
SIMON MAGUS stands at the front of the mob doing most of the pushing. He's in show-biz, too, like Phil, but he's more sleazy and sinister. His sharp, envious eyes notice everything.
Today, Simon has camouflaged his urban flashiness under Western attire and manners. He wears a natural-fiber, earth-tone shirt, but his gaudy gold neck chains glint between the buttons.
Phil tries to enter the venue without being burnt at the stake, but he stops long enough to face Simon Magus.
Since when do these people need the services of an outside agitator?
When Simon replies, he disguises his evil-sounding New York accent under a bland Western twang.
(trying not to snicker)
Go to Eye-rack and feed on A-rab children instead of ours!
I guess this is the only way you can get near a high school nowadays, eh, Simon?
The Fundamentalists take up the cry and turn it into a chant.
The Big Weird Woman chants loudest. She beat Phil here from Kansas.
In her loose tank top, black bra, and tattoo, she doesn't fit in with the crowd at all. But this doesn't seem to bother her: she has all the emotions of a zombie. The Big Weird Woman focuses her eyes on Phil but has linked arms with Simon Magnus and is clearly associated with him in some way.
Two HOUSEWIVES stand among the Fundamentalists: one plump, the other skinny. Their faces are red-hot and their bodies pulsate with strong emotions. They appear deeply offended by the idea of stage hypnosis and by Phil himself.
When Phil elbows through, brushing them with the electric-blue tails of his tux, the two Housewives nearly faint in righteous mortification.
Their wimpy, suburban HUSBANDS blush and simper apologetically to Phil.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL - AT THE SAME TIME
A beefy RENT-A-COP encourages a German shepherd to gnash and claw at students' lockers. The dog's snarls are drowned out by the beeps of metal detectors that occupy several doorways.
Outside the nurse's office, REGULAR BOYS wait to be chemically castrated for the day. The SCHOOL NURSE, who's built like an Olympic hammer thrower, hands out pills like candy.
A couple of TROUBLED TEENS, made up like Marilyn Manson, try to sneak past her. But she detains them.
Very funny. Bratty kids.
Using half a packet of Wet-Wipes and a quantity of grandmotherly saliva, the Nurse soon has their pimples makeup-free. She fusses over them and sends them on their way with a couple love-pats.
Now, you rascals behave yourselves today.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL AUDITORIUM - A BIT LATER
Muffled through the barred windows, the Fundamentalists chant outside:
Beelzebub! Moloch! Beelzebub! Moloch! ...
In the back of the auditorium a group of BAD KIDS aren't paying attention. They're listening to electronic radios with earphones and are entranced by pocket video games.
A TEACHER, stuck with patrol duty, cowers nearby. He suffers from all the tics of terminal nervous exhaustion. Someone snaps bubblegum, and he ducks.
The jaded Bad Kids don't even bother to laugh at him.
Onstage, Phil has a half-dozen NICE KIDS under hypnosis.
A PUNK GIRL stands onstage too, flashing a tongue stud and wearing all black leather, pink lace, and turquoise-spiked hair. She's faking hypnosis, but Phil doesn't mind in her case.
The Nice Kids seem to think they're on the moon.
Time for you astronauts to put on your space suits so we can leave the landing module and stretch our legs.
The Nice Kids are good at this. They give their imaginary helmets a half-twist which every sci-fi fan knows is required to lock the apparatus on your shoulders.
Don't forget your gravity boots.
Leaving her classmates to struggle with nine-pound footwear, the Punk Girl exits the spacecraft, blissfully unshod.
EXT. THE MOON - DAY
The Punk Girl dances ten feet over the lunar surface.
Phil stands in a crater below, observing her with fatherly affection.
(quietly, into the mic)
Watch out for meteors, dear.
The planet Earth rises over the pearly-white horizon, bathing everything, including Phil's face, in bright, blue light.
With a couple waves of his hands, he brings down Jupiter and Saturn and stretches the Punk Girl between them just like LaFontaine's Noblewoman between chairs.
Stay up there, honey. It's much safer.
The cheers and "bravos" of the noblemen and women at the Paris Opera House fill the air.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL AUDITORIUM - AT THAT MOMENT
Phil takes a deep bow with all the grand flourishes of LaFontaine.
The few STUDENTS paying attention start laughing at him, and he snaps out of his reverie.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL MAIN ENTRANCE - A BIT LATER
Simon Magus infiltrates the building, walking through the metal detector and right past the check-point without being subjected to the routine cavity search.
The Rent-a-Cop doesn't notice Simon, and even the German shepherd walks by without snapping at him.
Simon slinks down the corridor toward the auditorium.
INT. AUDITORIUM - A FEW MOMENTS LATER
Simon enters and loiters in the back among the Bad Kids. He eyes the Punk Girl lasciviously as she wriggles and slides around stage.
(glaring at Simon)
I know there's at least one wannabe hypnotist out there, and I'd rather my secrets not get stolen. So, pay no attention to this.
He points at Simon and snaps his fingers to no apparent effect.
Two TROUBLED TEENS slither onstage and follow the Punk Girl around, mocking her dance movements.
Phil tries to put them under with a couple light bops on the forehead. They fake hypnosis, stumbling all over the place, thinking themselves quite clever, but Phil isn't fooled.
Thanks so much, guys.
You can go away now.
They put their faces against Phil's in a challenging manner and lift their t-shirts to reveal nine-millimeter, semi-automatic handguns tucked under their belts.
Unflinching, Phil looks into each boy's eyes.
You kiddies should pull up those darn britches. Everybody can see your thingies.
The Troubled Teens have been put further under than they realize, and they cover themselves and leave the stage in shame.
(winking at the Punk Girl)
The Ritalin must have kicked in.
Simon hasn't missed a thing.
He quietly claps his hands, applauding Phil's handling of the situation, pretending to be amused. But Simon is, in fact, impressed by Phil, and his face contorts with a flash of agonized envy. He considers Phil a professional rival.
The Punk Girl looks at Simon in fascination until Phil sends her and her classmates on another errand.
Let's play a little B-ball at the bottom of a sea of kiwi marmalade.
The Nice Kids dribble and dunk with some effort, but the Punk Girl negotiates the marmalade expertly.
The darn ball sure is buoyant. Don't let it get away from you!
As he works, Phil keeps one anxious eye on Simon's in the back.
By some unknown means, Simon has attracted several of the Bad Kids to his side. He chats with them, implanting all manner of anti-social, post-hypnotic suggestions into their addled minds.
Simon discreetly purchases a baggie of Ecstasy from them and passes some to the Big Weird Woman who has materialized in the shadows behind him.
She gobbles the poison obediently. Simon hands her some more, and she gobbles that.
The Bad Kids are amazed when Simon repeats the process yet again. This time, though, he adds a theatrical flourish with his hands, causing the Big Weird Woman to stiffen like a board and her arms to fly into a crucified position.
The Bad Kids applaud.
EXT. CHEAP DENVER MOTEL PARKING LOT - THAT NIGHT
The two Housewives from the demonstration emerge from the darkness, their faces and bodies stained lurid red by a big VACANCY sign. They seem to be lying in wait for someone.
INT. SUV - AT THAT MOMENT
Their wimpy Husbands wait.
The first cowers behind the wheel, and the second cringes beside him. Both look out the windows self-consciously.
Can I share feelings?
You know I'm here.
(earnestly searching for words)
The first husband chokes up.
It's okay. It's okay.
Sometimes I really feel that it can be kind of, um, emasculating, in a way, to be married to someone who's so ... well, so darn brim-full of the Holy Spirit.
The Second Husband feels too emotional to reply.
EXT. CHEAP DENVER MOTEL PARKING LOT - A MINUTE LATER
Phil wants to enter his squalid room, but the Housewives bar his way.
He used enchantments, and used witchcraft ...
... and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards.
And he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger!
Chronicles Two, chapter thirty-three --
Verse six. You don't say.
The Housewives are surprised by Phil's familiarity with the Bible, and they close in on him.
The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man.
(waving her fingers hypnotically)
A deep, de-e-e-ep sleep.
(eyeing the door of Phil's room)
And while he slept ...
... took one of his ribs and closed up its place with f-f-f-flesh.
The skinny housewife almost faints at the mention of the word.
And with the rib, he made woman ...
She hikes up her skirt to display a scarlet thong.
Phil is not surprised.
... and brought her to him!
She also hikes up her skirt, to display an identical scarlet thong. Hers is barely visible under rolls of cellulite.
Genesis, chapter two, verse ... whatever. Christ almighty.
He has already opened LaFontaine's book and found his place before shutting the door on the Housewives' squeals and grunts.
INT. PHIL'S SQUALID MOTEL ROOM - NIGHT
Phil kicks off his shoes, unfastens his plum satin cummerbund, tosses it over the television, and stands in the middle of the room.
Holding his book up, like an opera singer with a libretto, he begins to read more about LaFontaine the Mesmerizer.
INT. PARIS SALON - EVENING
LaFontaine stands majestically in the middle of the floor in an opulent parlor. It's furnished in the most elaborate style of the day.
Attending the soiree are some of late nineteenth-century Europe's most brilliant intelligentsia, including a POET, a few ARTISTS, a couple of PHILOSOPHERS, and their aristocratic HANGERS-ON.
The HOST is a fabulously wealthy nouveau riche from the world of international finance who knows just enough to keep his mouth shut.
Several of the world's most BEAUTIFUL WOMEN are also present, and they stare at LaFontaine, enrapt and flushed with spiritual aspirations.
BARON DUPOTET remains aloof. He's plump and swarthy and has a cruelly sensual mouth and serpent's eyes. He simmers with envy.
Monsieur LaFontaine! I heard you were languishing in a southern prison.
And so I was. The king of Naples allowed me to roll the stone from the sepulcher and come forth.
Surely you mesmerized his Neapolitan Majesty to gain such clemency.
He did set one condition.
That I cease restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf.
But, Monsieur LaFontaine, why would the king have you behave so uncharitably toward the wretches of this world?
A small matter of the all-too-faithful imitation of Christ.
Everyone titters at this near-blasphemous remark, except Baron Dupotet.
You imitate Christ, LaFontaine? Bah! Mesmerism's pretensions toward healing were pooh-poohed a hundred years ago by no less a personage than Doctor Guillotine --
-- who deserved to be consulted on the topic of staying healthy. Right up till the moment of death.
The room titters again.
LaFontaine looks at the Beautiful Woman with chaste appreciation. She nearly melts under his eyes.
He turns to deal with the Baron.
It's a matter, my dear Dupotet, of psychologizing -- or "animal-magnetizing," as you would inaccurately say -- the astral body, which is poised intermediate between the spiritual and physical ...
I don't require schooling on the rudiments of our art.
But I'm afraid you do. I wouldn't call it "our" art, in any case.
Baron Dupotet swells with anger.
The Poet looks as though he'll expire like a delicate flower if this conflict escalates any further. He withdraws from the inner circle and approaches a purple couch situated in the corner among exotic potted ferns.
Sitting upon this couch is a seven-foot-tall Punjabi HINDU. Curled up next to him is a Roman Catholic CARDINAL, capped and robed in red satin, an envoy from the Vatican. He's almost as tall as the Hindu who is obviously his lover tonight.
The Hindu wears a vast white turban with a fist-sized ruby pinned at the helm. Wrapped in the serpentine hose of an exquisite jade hookah, he shares slow sips of soup-thick narcotic smoke with the Cardinal.
The two of them listen to LaFontaine with a pleased look in their eyes.
The Poet tries to take some opiated hashish from an alabaster box which the Hindu holds in the palm of one gigantic hand.
That's Soma. Or something near enough. It's not intended for profane consumption. Aryans only.
But those two megalomaniacs are going to draw stilettos any moment. It's so unpleasant to have corpses bleeding underfoot at soirees this time of year.
I'm enjoying their contretemps.
LaFontaine is quite good.
The Baron needs mollification.
The Poet and the Hindu have a friendly mock battle over the narcotic morsel, slapping one another's hands away. The Poet prevails and retreats in triumph with his prize.
(calling after him)
Don't mollify our two wonder-workers too much. His Eminence, the Holy Father in Rome, has a very important job for both of them.
The Poet lays the hashish on the green marble mantelpiece and proceeds to knead it together with some potent herbs from his waistcoat pocket. He nestles the resulting concoction in golden spoons and passes it around on a silver tray.
Baron Dupotet gobbles two helpings and then a third. His eyes grow red and aggressive with intoxication.
So, LaFontaine, do you have your way with those lovely young subjects of yours?
(glancing at Dupotet's plump belly)
I'm not quite so comfortably confined in my coat of flesh as you are in yours, Monsieur le Baron.
Dupotet is enraged by that remark. He snatches a golden spoon of the hashish mixture and brandishes it in LaFontaine's face like a poisoned dagger.
The great mesmerist turns aside in revulsion.
INT. PHIL'S SQUALID MOTEL ROOM - DAWN
At the bathroom mirror, Phil turns aside in identical revulsion from his own foaming toothbrush. He lip-synch's LaFontaine's words:
Unlike yours, Dupotet, my body plays host to no demons that demand nourishment.
Through the corner of one eye, Phil observes the image of himself in the mirror. He practices arching his eyebrows and lowering his eyelids with haughty disdain.
But he doesn't pantomime for long because sunlight is already seeping through the hideous motel drapes.
He's got a long drive to his next gig.