Little Aleppo is dark at night. Streetlights are good targets, and bulbs can be resold. Locals draw the drapes, and the teevee blares against them, blue windows in brick buildings that block the moon and all the stars. When the sun goes down, the knives come out, and the Town Fathers wrap barbed wire around their collars to show they mean business. “Trust your fellow man in the day; trust your mantrap at night,” is a common saying in the neighborhood.
Who was out? Why leave home, warm and safe, and roam the Main Drag with its monsters and blind alleys? Some wanted to; some had to. Some people like to go out dancing; other people, they gotta work. In the Hamlet, there was a loft party that had been going on for twelve years, and the people downstairs were starting to get annoyed; the music did not start until two and then at noon the dance floor would boogie, shirtless, over to the Morning Tavern for last call. But the cops had to be out, and so did the whores, and so the did the stevedores down on Boone’s Docks and the Salt Wharf.
When it was dark, the Midnight Librarians catalogued the neighborhood’s dreams.
Better to stay in. Food can be brought to you, if you can manage not to take the delivery boy hostage. Little Aleppo has several pizza places: Cagliostro’s, which promises your pie in 30 minutes, or it will be late; Vafunculo’s, where you get free napkins with every purchase of over $25; and Santa Maria’s, whose phone number is one digit off from a sex line, and will gladly talk dirty to you if you order extra garlic knots. Better to stay in, maybe watch a little teevee. Folks in Little Aleppo liked their Late Movie, and they had their own Horror Host, who was named Draculette.
“Draculette?” Tiresias Richardson asked. “That’s your idea? Draculette?”
“Cuz you’re a vampire!”
“And you’re a girl!” Paul Loomis said. He was genuinely impressed with himself for coming up with the name. Paul was easily impressed, which is why the programming on KSOS was such crap. In another town, Paul may–through failure–have become more discerning, but Little Aleppo had long ago had a falling-out with the ionosphere, and KSOS was the only channel that came in clearly after the sun went down; he had a captive audience, on several levels.
Tiresias thought about mentioning that she was 26 (she was actually 29), but then she looked down and saw her cleavage, and looked in the mirror and saw the rest of herself.
“And what a girl.”
The station had a tough time keeping Horror Hosts. As you might imagine, they are a squirrelier lot than, say, accountants. Wolfman Zack only showed up once a month; Mortuary Mindy was not joking about the things everyone thought she was joking about.
The latest casualty was Doctor Mausoleum. A good deal of the Doctor’s charm was that he was tipsy, but over the months glasses became bottles; by the last few broadcasts, he was just taking his dick out and shouting his ex-wife’s name. Admittedly, it was the scariest thing he had ever done, but it wasn’t the right kind of scary, and Paul Loomis needed a new Horror Host.
And Tiresias Richardson needed her big break.
“I’ll do it.”
“I can’t pay you.”
This was not going to be her big break, she thought.
Tiresias had other thoughts, though, and she had them concurrently: she usually had nine or ten bouncing off one another in there at any time. A gig’s a gig, she thought, and also that the most popular of the previous Horror Hosts had scored endorsements with local businesses, and she could put it in her reel, but almost most of all, she thought it sounded like fun.
Most of all, she liked the dress. Not so much the wig and the makeup–although the nails were a hoot to tippity-tap against things to emphasize a point–but Tiresias was feeling the dress.
She had been dating, kinda, sorta, who knows, a cameraman from KSOS who had told her about the upcoming job opening.
“Doctor Mausoleum’s gonna take his dick out.”
“Tirry, I’m telling you: he’s gonna take his dick out.”
Tiresias was not a habitual watcher of the Late Movie–she was a morning person–but she stayed up late the next night, and after a rather short amount of time decided that the cameraman was right: that man’s dick was coming out. A gig’s a gig, she thought, and if Doctor Mausoleum doesn’t want the gig, then she would certainly take it.
In the morning, she went to work at Big-Dicked Sheila’s Hair Salon for Rock Stars and Their Ilk. Tiresias wasn’t great at cutting hair, but she wasn’t terrible at it, either; mostly what she was was quick-witted, and she would laugh at her own jokes, and she would laugh at yours, too–AAAAAHhahaha–and she would lower her head down when she did, so she was looking up at you through her eyebrows, like you two had a secret. Tiresias Richardson had the kind of laugh that could never be at you.
“I wanna be the new Horror Host.”
“I wanna be a helicopter pilot,” Sheila said.
“No. It seems like something you should want to be, though.”
“I see what you’re saying.”
“We need a dress.”
Which they did, but what they really needed was to alter the fuck out of a dress. It started as a mass-market Little Black Dress, two sizes too small. Sheila sliced a towering V down the front, and sewed in an underboob shelf made out of spandex, and horizontal under the armpits were celluloid buttresses. She stood Tiresias up and gathered the material in the back, stretched it until it creaked and pinged, and fastened the fabric bridge up her back.
“Does the skirt need a slit?” Tiresias asked.
“Ripped to the tits.”
The slit did not go quite that high, but it did make it to several inches below Tiresias’ other specifically female body part. The look was not complete: there was the hair to think about, and makeup yet to go.
“No one’s gonna look at your shoes, honey.”
Sheila was right. As she looked in the mirror, all Tiresias could think of was BOUNTEOUS, globular and shimmying with her lungs’ back-and-forth, and tapered down to a restrained and constricted waist–she could not breathe very well–and slamming out to a surprising hip curve, and she laughed–AAAAAHhahaha–and among the nine or ten thoughts she always had bouncing off one another in her head, she had a new one:
“Person who looks like this can get away with saying just about anything.”
“That sounds right,” Sheila said.
“Did I say that out loud?”
Tiresias looked in the mirror some more.
“I saw God, Tirry.”
“Good for God. I can’t breathe in this thing.”
“Beauty requires sacrifice.”
Sheila proved to be right: the wig was heavy and made Tiresias’ scalp sweat and itch, and the makeup was thick–she could feel it on her face like a fresh coat of mulch–and she found that her fake eyelashes weighed so much that she was unable to properly regulate her eyelids. Her high heels looked great when she sitting in her evil throne (just a barber’s chair; she was pretending) but they were less suited for other things, like walking or standing up in.
“Go to the couch in the lounge and do the pose,” Sheila said.
“The Horror Host pose. Reclining on your side, propped on your elbow, one leg on top of the other, good posture, cleavage.”
Tiresias went to the couch.
“Should I show a little leg?”
“What business are you in?”
“There you are.”
“It is traditional.”
“It’s a man’s world, honey. Fuck ’em.”
“AAAAAHhahaha. But I need a name.”
“Draculette!” Paul Loomis repeated.
“You sound like your mind is made up,” Tiresias said.
“Completely honest?” Paul liked to say that, but not be it. “I already called the paper and placed an ad.”
“Great. Draculette. When do I start?”
“Midnight. When did you think the Midnight Movie started?”
“No, I know when it airs. I meant when do we start shooting?”
“Midnight. It’s live.”
“Midnight every night. But you start tonight.”
Tiresias had many thoughts, nine or ten at once: she had to watch the movie, which was called Satan’s Sharpened Scythe, and then figure out how to say the title, and come up with a joke or two, and maybe she should use props, and she should go check the lighting first thing, and she needed to pee, and call her mom, but really she needed to watch that damn movie. All of those ideas, though, were secondary to the math she was doing: is there enough time to get out of this damn dress, and then stuff myself back into it?
There was, barely, and she watched the movie in a robe with a legal pad and a pizza that Sheila had brought, but kept trying to slap from her hand.
“We’re pushing the limits of the dress’ fabric, Tirry.”
“One slice? I’ll give you one word.”
“AAAAAHhahaha. I won’t eat the crust. God, this movie’s shit.”
Sheila agreed, and ate Tiresias’ crust. Everything that could be wrong with a movie was wrong with Satan’s Sharpened Scythe, plus some things that should not be possible; while the film was playing, the monitor issued a noticeable scent of burning hair. The audio popped and disappeared, the scenes were in no particular order, the actors were clearly local vagrants, and the picture went from color to black-and-white at random and sometimes in the middle of a take.
Tiresias and Sheila also found it peculiar that a film entitled Satan’s Sharpened Scythe would be set on Jupiter and feature killer gorillas.
Time is a killer gorilla, a man who was awful at metaphors once wrote, and soon they were getting Tiresias back in the dress; she had discovered that she could not put her arms all the way down. She went to the gym and watched what she ate–Tiresias thought she was doing all right, between you and her–but she was still a human-shaped animal, and so she had lumpy parts and floppy bits and things that went wobble; the dress basically martialed all of this available flesh and pushed it towards where it was needed, that deep and towering V that Sheila had tailored, but some of the runoff went under her armpits so she couldn’t put her arms at her side.
And at midnight all the Horror Hosts and the television crew go to work. The set was small and littered with the previous hosts’ detritus: coffins, and candelabra, and a skeleton that Mortuary Mindy had brought in that maybe no one asked enough questions about.
Tiresias took the couch, which was one of those spooky Edwardian fainting couches, the kind with the half-back and pea-green upholstery and not enough padding, and lay on her left side, propped up on her elbow. The cameraman–not the one she was dating, kinda, sorta, who knows–was a hulking teamster, and he swiveled the camera towards her, the teleprompter–which she had typed her script into– jutting an overbite towards her.
“Five, four,” the cameraman said, and then mouthed the next numbers while counting down on his fingers, and then the red light went on, and Tiresias had no thoughts in her head for the first time in a very long time, save one: I’ve never read off a teleprompter before.
And then the teleprompter broke, and she had no thoughts at all.
“I’m. Hi. I’m Tir…Dracula. Etta. Ette. DRACULETTE and…ha…we, um have a movie for you. Tonight. A movie tonight. Satan’s Shaper Shamp. Ha. Santa’s Sample Sample. Ugh.”
Tiresias was suddenly very aware of the weight of the makeup on her face, and the heat of the lights she and Sheila had bobby-pinned colored gel paper to, and the cameraman’s silence, and her fake eyelashes pulled her whole head down, and then she was very aware of her dress, and she looked back up at the camera, right into the camera with one eye raised like she and it had a secret, and she said,
“All this and you want me to speak English, too? AAAAAHhahaha!”
And the cameraman laughed along with her.
“Satan’s Sharpened Scythe. Listen, y’little boogers: this one didn’t win an Oscar. There wasn’t even anyone on the crew named Oscar. It’s a completely Oscar-free film. AAAAAHhahaha!”
The cameraman laughed with her again.
“I hope you enjoy this crap as much as this bruiser is.”
And Tiresias had nine or ten thoughts in her head again, bouncing around and off one another.
“In fact, that’s his name: Bruiser. The most loyal henchman a girl could ask for. Had him for two centuries, and I just got him housebroken. Unfortunately, we live in a dungeon so he keeps peeing on the floor. AAAAAHhahaha!”
Bruiser laughed again, and harder, and Draculette lived. Or unlived, maybe. Tiresias was still not quite sure whether she was a vampire or a witch or an evil goddess or what, but she wasn’t much concerned: it would come to her. Until it did, she was sure she could coast by on tits and jokes. A gig’s a gig.
The phone lines lit up–several of the calls were from Creepy Ernie–and after local ads, and high school plays, and improv troupes, and acting class after acting class, and summer stock, and regional theater, and an uncountable number of unfulfilled auditions, Tiresias Richardson was an overnight success, or at least Draculette was. She was the new Horror Host, and she presented the Late Movie in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.