Here's a Story
It was just before bedtime in the Cortland home, and someone outside was shouting.
Michael and Kelsey had soaked in the curb appeal the first time they visited the little two-story on its generous hunk of property in Studio City. They’d noticed the thru-traffic, heavier than most neighborhoods. Nothing a few speed bumps couldn’t solve. They’d petition the city, get an asphalt crew out. Passers-thru would be avoiding Dilling Street by the time they were done. They started escrow and moved in soon after.
The shouting had started immediately. It came from people in passing cars at random times, day and night.
“Greg! I love youuuuuuuuuu..!”
A quiet half hour would pass. Just as sleep was about to take hold, another shout from a random strangers chest:
“Pork chops and apple sauce!”
Michael and Kelsey would look at each other, shrug. They’d go back to their reading, turn over, try to sleep.
“I’ll never wash this cheek agaiiiiin!”
The first time the Cortland’s walked around 11201 Dilling Street they felt like they were home. Something was familiar. Comfortable. They had come on the heels of Michael’s new studio job, and the house seemed perfect. He worked it out with his union so he could run home, strip, catch an hour’s sleep and be back on set where actors and their ever-lollygagging production crews slogged through shoots.
The first sign something was amiss on Dilling had come on moving day. Kelsey, accustomed to knowing her neighbors, couldn’t find a soul anywhere. Maybe they all work days. She continued guiding the movers to where boxes and fixtures belonged. She’d stepped onto the porch and overheard the driver and his assistant, leaned against the truck like teamsters; the driver hummed a familiar tune from a popular 60’s TV show while the other pointed to where a group loitered down the street, hovering as if watching a meteor streak from the sky.
Visitors routinely parked in the open length of curb affront the Cortland’s new home. They found this small section of curb was so intensely popular, so active, that it could rate its own meter if the city had ever fancied the idea.
A week into their tenure, a neighbor named Robin brought a cake.
“A neighbor bearing gifts! It’s the first sign of the apocalypse,” Michael joked. He invited their new neighbor in.
“Wait til you taste it, first. So, have you been up to the local attraction yet?”
Michael & Kelsey looked at each other.
Rather than explain, Robin walked them up the street. They joined the small crowd, and there they realized that they’d unwittingly accepted a new job, moved across the country, signed a mortgage, settled in and made their home four doors away from the house of another famous family, the one once fictionally known as the Brady’s.
Kelsey was excited to learn they had a famous neighbor. Well, a structural one, anyway. “Isn’t it great,” she would beam, “everyone in the world literally wants to live where we live! It’s idyllic! We’re living the fantasy life most people are only able to see through their TVs.”
“Actually, I feel kinda cheated.”
“Celebrities are part of the daily landscape. They’re just people with faces made famous by film and TV.” He peeked out the window; cars and people were gathered up the street, snapping wide-angle photos, posing for selfies. “Don’t they understand that?”
“No. So why do you feel cheated?”
“If we’d moved into a place on Long Island, I’d like to be told the Amityville Horror house was up the street.”
“Oh it’s not as all bad as that.”
“No, what’s bad is my sleep lately.”
“Is the shouting keeping you up?”
“That too. I keep having the same dream, again and again. Nothing interesting or consequential. It’s just the same setting, same people every night.”
She patted his arm. “Look on the bright side. You’re still getting up every morning.”
“Yeah. World hasn’t ended yet.”
“Yet,” she said.
They came by the dozens. Every day, Googlers who’d found the address of the Brady’s infamous exterior shots. Michael would come home for a precious afternoon nap only to be startled awake by someone trudging down the street shouting ‘MARCIA MARCIA MARCIA!’ as if this would bring the actress out of hiding. Like anyone who lives near a freeway or train yard, he and Kelsey eventually became accustomed to the interruptions.
Michael finally got a night off. He and Kelsey lay in bed together, their backs propped against pillows, books in their hands.
“How’s your latest McCormick novel?” Kelsey ventured. Michael liked westerns and had found a lesser title by his favorite author.
“More of the same,” Michael said. “His main character, Barry, is supposed to die in this. So I’m told. I wish people in chat rooms would learn what ‘spoiler alert’ means.”
A horn honked outside. Voices shouted then faded. Michael rolled his eyes; Kelsey watched as he guffed from his chest, an all-too-familiar sign of disgust.
“Don’t let it bother you.”
“We can hardly have our lives without always hearing someone trying to live out their sitcom dreams.”
“We could take a vacation,” she offered.
“We just got here.”
Kelsey held up her book. “I’m reading this book about the Seven Wonders of the World. Have you been to any of these?”
A small engine raced down the street, a rice-burner his brother used to call them. It sounded like an giant bee buzzing thru, announcing the apocalypse.
“I’ve never left the country,” he said.
“Well,” Kelsey said, “there’s a ton of history out there. We don’t always have to stay in its televised shadow. We can see some of the real stuff.”
“Yeah. Here, look.” She leaned the book to where he could see. The feel of her bare skin distracted him, in a good way.
“See? The Pyramids. They took almost twenty years to build! Can you imagine anything taking twenty years to build?”
“Not on one of my sets. If the construction guys don’t have a perfect replica of the White House done in six hours the director raises holy hell.”
“Ancient Egyptians believed that famous buildings would be the site of the next apocalypse,” she read aloud. “And there would be no building more famous than the pyramids.”
“Apparently they were prepping for the future. Five thousand years they’ve been around. Can you imagine? Maybe that’s what we need to go see.”
“The great pyramid of geezers?”
“Giza,” she corrected. “Geeeeze – ah.”
“It’s still full of old dead people.”
“Sounds like a bunch of geezers to me.”
“Yep.” Kelsey went back to her book. She knew better than to interrupt one of his Dad-joke jags. If she just let it run it’s course, he’d run out of steam.
“OK,” he finally asked, “so what would it take to go see this great wonder of the world?”
“On second thought,” Michael interrupted, “it would probably cost a fortune. I - ”
Another honk outside. This one sounded like it could’ve been Mr. Brady’s station wagon.
Kelsey heard it too. She nodded toward the bedroom window.
“Would you rather stay and listen to that until the end of time?”
“No, I want it to stop.”
“Well all we can do is move. Do you want to move?”
“No, I love the house. I want to stay. And I don’t need a trip of my dreams, either. In fact, I’d settle for just one night with a different dream. Something different. Something - ”
Michael had opened his mouth to continue when someone driving what sounded like a massive vehicle, a Ford diesel he guessed, blasted an air horn like a runaway Kenworth careening down an icy interstate. It shook their walls, the windows, even the bedside fixtures. Whatever Michael was about to say disappeared.
He shot out of bed. He crossed to the window, ready to lay into the inconsiderate bastard. He reached for the latch on the window.
“Oh boy here it comes,” Kelsey moaned, “the atomic meltdown. Stand back, Michael’s gonna unleash the apocalypse.”
He shot her a look. No sooner had he turned back to the window than a sudden burst of violent thunder boomed, shaking the house to its core. The eyes of husband and wife searched the room.
“What was that,” she said.
“Thunder. Micro-cell probably.”
She picked up her iPhone. “Nothing here about rain.”
Michael pulled at the window. Instead of swinging wide, the frame stopped after only a few inches. He looked at Kelsey.
“I installed safety latches right after we moved in,” she said. “Seeing all the people trolling the neighborhood I figured another level of security couldn’t hurt, you know, in case someone mistakes our house for Sam the Butcher’s.”
Michael twisted the little latch. He finally got it loose and shoved the window wide to stick his head out. He breathed deep, ready to unleash a string of obscenities that would startle the lookie-loos right back to TV Land.
Then he stopped. The air was sucked out of him. Finally he caught enough breath to speak.
“Oh my god Kelsey, come here.”
“Please. I don’t want to see yet another batch of dimwits traipsing down the street, swinging beer bottles, yelling about Peter or Bobby or - ”
“Kelsey!” he shouted.
She set her book on her nightstand and sighed heavy. She hated getting out of bed once she was in it. She’d had enough of 11222 Dilling Street, its unending flow of visitors, the strangers using their trash cans as public waste receptacles. She’d once found someone’s bike stuffed in there. The recycling can, no less.
“Geez, I’m coming.” She got his side. “OK, what’s - ”
She couldn’t blink. Neither of them could speak.
Michael’s first instinct, of course, was to rationalize away what they were seeing. Certainly there was no such thing as a twenty foot tall white horse, glowing, breathing fire from its nostrils while the rider, a giant man in black and barely visible, led the charge down the asphalt.
It had to be some made-up, studio illusion. Of course. Someone was filming. It was a projection. But which studio what capable of creating such a thing? And why hadn’t they received a courtesy notice letting them know the street would be closed down?
Whoever was behind it, Michael had them to thank for finally scaring off the neighborhood’s constant visitors. Nothing like a sign of the apocalypse charging down the street to scare the bejeezus out of the riff-raff.
Michael breathed a sigh of relief and turned from the window. Maybe now he could get a little well-earned sleep before work tomorrow. Finally, he thought, peace and quiet. Whoever had built that thing deserved an Oscar. So life-like, so real. Wow! Even the house was shaking! That fact slowly sank in.
The house is shaking.
Seeing the pale rider rip from the Earth, shedding chunks of asphalt and torn sewer lines, Kelsey simply said “oh dear,” and Michael knew she wasn’t joking. “Oh, this can’t possibly be good.”
No, Michael thought. No, it really can’t.
But it sure beat another sleepless night with nothing but reruns.