"Ten minutes Mr. Evans."
The woman disappeared behind the dressing room door and left him alone with his thoughts. Adam Emanuel Evans sank back in the chair, hoping to catch a few precious moments of rest before the girl returned to warn him there were only five minutes until the curtain. Ha had always hated the reminders, even as a struggling actor. He felt that as a professional actor, you always knew how much time was left until curtain no matter the situation. If you were a factory worker, you were expected to know when to show up. No annoying mousey girl who was probably an unpaid intern turned up at the worker's house to inform him he had ten minutes to get to work. He slumped lower in the chair, trying in vain to make himself comfortable. Nothing about this job was really comfortable. The city was nothing special (about as far from New York as you could go and still be in the same state) and his housing was little more than adequate. The theater wasn't bad, he had to give it that. He had seen much worse in the last fifteen years as his career slid into what his agent maddeningly called "the golden years". All in all it was another performance in another town and another paycheck that he would barely see after alimony and agent fees. Evans heaved another sigh, opening his eyes. He regarded his reflection with half-hearted interest, seeing the man who had won an oscar for his role in some movie nearly everyone these days had never heard of, let alone seen.
He spent a lot of time recently looking at that man, trying to divine some answers from that silent phantom of the past. Evans supposed a lot of people his age did this, wallowing in the mire of nostalgia and regret that only a person of advanced years could attempt to navigate. He gazed at his reflection, barely noticing the newspaper clipping someone (the mousey intern, most likely) had slipped into the frame of the mirror where he would be able to see it. Even if he had noticed it, Evans wouldn't have read the article. He gave up on reading reviews when he started going on the road. He figured that his life was as depressing as he could handle, no need to let the snide venom of the local critic add itself to the mountain of self loathing that Evans kept swept under the rug. Resigning himself to the fact that he was not going to be able to doze off, Evans sat up straight in the chair. It was then he caught sight of something in the mirror that nearly stopped his heart.
Perched on top of the wardrobe in one corner of his dressing room was a hideous monkey-like creature. It was covered from head to toe in coarse black fur, with long arms that terminated in spindly, grasping fingers that seemed unnaturally long. It was hunched forward, its legs with their almost human feet dangling down one of the wardrobe's doors. Its face was a hideous amalgamation of simian and rabbit-like features, with the thick lips and nose of the former. The eyes, however were by far the worst. They shone with a devilish intelligence that was totally alien. It took Evans a few seconds to realize the thing was looking at him. Could that be expectation shining in those cunning, inhuman eyes? Evans cleared his throat. The thing's ears, long, thin and erect like those of a hare, twitched slightly. Evans licked his lips.
"So..." He managed to fumble out. The thing continued to stare down at him with those horrible piercing eyes. Evans felt revulsion crawl up his spine on its thousand tiny legs as the thing's thick, sensuous lips pulled back to reveal a shiny, gap toothed grin.
"I was wondering when you'd get around to acknowledging me."
Its voice was high, but nowhere near as unpleasant as its form would dictate. Evans cleared his throat again, watching in grim fascination as the creature's ears twitched at the sound. Evans closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten. When he opened them, the thing was still staring at down at him from atop the wardrobe. Evans shook his head violently from side to side. Still the creature remained.
"Have you satisfied yourself that I am real yet? Or do I need to wait for you to pinch yourself?"
The thing's face twisted into that repulsive grin again. Evans began to turn.
"I would not do that if I were you." He saw that the thing had raised a bony fingered hand as if to ward him off further.
"Twould be better for you if you just looked at my reflection. Might help preserve your sanity a bit."
Evans stopped, more than afraid enough to comply with the thing's request.
"So...why are you here, exactly?"
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
Evans was nonplussed. The creature had produced a long, thin pipe made of some ghostly colored material and tucked it into the corner of its fiendish grin. Smoke almost immediately began curling from the tiny bowl at the end.
"You're going to set off the smoke alarm." He motioned to the faded plastic disk clamped to the ceiling not far from where the thing was perched. The creature waved a long fingered hand dismissively.
"So Adam Emanuel Evans, Jeremy William McLaughlin that was, you ask why I am here. That's interesting. Most people usually ask what I am first. Some never ask at all. They do their best to treat me as some horrifying hallucination. Whatever the response, it always ends the same."
Evans swallowed audibly.
"Am I dead? Have you come to conduct me down to hell?"
The creature chuckled. It was grating, but somehow musical.
"So dramatic,. But I should expect nothing less from an old thespian such as yourself. No, I am not here to escort you into the world beyond. Such a privilege is reserved for those whose station is much higher than my own."
The thing took a long draw on his pipe.
"Do you ever wonder, after a particularly inspired performance, just where it came from? On those nights when you feel like each line vibrates through your nerves, each word weaving a great entrancing net to catch the audience? That's me."
"Surely you can't be serious. You're saying...you're saying that you're my...my muse?"
The creature chuckled again.
"You were expecting something more..." It paused for a moment, searching for the right word. "Greek? Those silly fools were always too preoccupied with beauty anyway. Don't get me wrong, some muses are beautiful, nymphlike creatures. But I am not one of them. Few of us are, sadly. You should know better. Acting is visceral, it comes from your gut, not your brain or heart. It's an ugly thing. It's only fitting that its muses should be the same."
Evans shifted in the chair.
"So you mean to tell me that any time I give a great performance, it's not me, but you?" The oscar flitted across his mind.
The creature shook its head, briefly closing those piercing, devilish eyes.
"No, no no it's not as clear cut as all that. Think of it this way. When you really get going, you tap into my glammer, my talent, if you will. I'm not present, you just channel a part of me. Like tuning a radio to a specific station."
"So if that's the case, why are you here? And more importantly, where the hell have you been for the last ten years?"
The creature's eyes narrowed and it dragged hard on the pipe again.
"I think you're missing the point. I don't just show up willy nilly. You have to call me."
This incensed the old actor.
"Call you? Call you!? I've been sliding into obscurity for more than fifteen years and you just show up and tell me all I had to do this whole goddamn time was call you? Did it ever occur to you to leave your number?"
The creature's eyes narrowed more, it began to look menacing, dangerous.
"That's not how it works. I show up when you're passionate about a role, when you start to get lost in a character. I meet you halfway. It's been quite a long time since you've done anything but regurgitate someone else's words onto an unsuspecting audience."
"So if I've been such a disappointment, why are you here?"
"That's exactly why I'm here. I've grown tired of waiting around for you to show some spark of the talent and passion you once possessed or for your narcissistic self loathing to finally consume you and set me free. Being your muse has been no great pleasure for me. I can tell you that. I'm here to help you, but mostly for my own selfish reasons."
"So what is your plan? Berate and belittle me back to fame? I don't see how a mangy monstrosity masquerading as a muse appearing out of nowhere and nearly scaring me to death helps."
The creature placed a long fingered hand before its eyes and sighed.
"I am sick and tired of waiting for you. You want to hear my plan? I take over for you for a little while. Get things back on track, then, once we have a little momentum, things go back to the way they were between us. You throw yourself into a role, I show up and help make it something more than just good acting."
Evans was silent for a long time. Was he really this far gone? How had he not noticed any sign that things were slipping away? It couldn't be the drink, he had given it up twenty years ago. An acid flashback? He had only ever done it that once at some director's lake house and he hadn't really enjoyed it then. Well, if this was the case, insanity, drug flashback or whatever, best to just go with the flow.
"Fine. Let's do it. Where will I be while you're in...you know, in the driver's seat?"
"You'll be conscious, just not in control. It'll be like watching a movie in first person."
Evans looked hard at the creature's reflection, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.
"How do I know you're going to give me back my body?"
The thing shrugged.
"You don't. But ask yourself this: would you rather watch the movie of your life unfold into its final triumphant act or continue to piss it away knowing you could have changed everything?"
Evans sat still for a time. Another thought occurred to him.
"Will it hurt?" He felt exceedingly childish as soon as the words were out.
The thing shrugged.
"Honestly? I'm not sure."
Evans turned this over for a moment.
"All right, let's do it. Do I have to say anything, or do anything special."
"Nope. Just sit still."
Evans closed his eyes. He didn't want to see the creature move. Regardless of its nature, the thing still unsettled him a great deal. He felt a tickle in his right ear. It intensified to a maddening itch and then it was gone. The old actor felt his eyes open. The thing was gone from the wardrobe, and for a brief second, he believed he had woken from some nightmare. Then he caught sight of his reflection. Something about him had changed, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was. Only that something was not right. The dressing room door opened. He felt his head turn.
"Five minutes Mr. Evans."
Someone else replied with a brisk but cheerful thanks, and it took Evans a moment to realize that it had been him. He tried to cry out in confusion, but found he could not make his mouth move. When he attempted to look in the mirror, he felt his body lurch beneath him. He was standing. It couldn't have been a dream. Everything that had transpired had all taken place in the real world. The creature or muse or whatever was now in control of his body. And for what? For the promise of acclaim? A return to the life he once led? He had given up control of his life, his very body on the off chance of becoming famous again. How like him. How vain and shortsighted.
Evans watched as the creature quickly picked up the tricks of maneuvering his old body, with its lifetime of twinges and creaks. He was backstage, the other actors huddled together like sheep on a cold night. The thing that was now him swung wide of the group. They were beneath him. Some liberal arts actors who had washed up in this sad excuse for a city, working in its even sadder excuse for a theater. He had seen the Globe in its heyday, had trod on the grassy swards of Athenian amphitheaters. How had it come to this? Evans stopped. Could those be his thoughts? He had never been to Greece. The actor scolded himself for how quickly he had begun to identify the thing in control of his body as himself. Evans made a mental note (it was all he could do now) to be on his guard from now on. A more unsettling thought elbowed its way to the front of his consciousness. If he could hear the thoughts of the creature, could it hear his? Evans supposed there was no sense in worrying about it. A change in the lighting yanked him from his reverie. He was on stage. His focus shifted onto the scene before him. Listening with ears that were no longer his, to a performance he wasn't giving. How strange to be a spectator in your own body Evans thought.
It was the opening scene of the play. Evans didn't really care for his part in the show at all. However, there was something about this opening monologue that made the rest of the play tolerable. He listened as the creature growled the first line, tearing into the meat of the of the dialogue like a pack of wolves on a sickly elk. Compared to what was now happening on stage, Evans' best rendition of the monologue was dogshit. He was bowled over by the rush of anger in his voice, somehow still conveying subtle undertones of loss and regret. A pang of indignation distracted Evans briefly. Where the hell was this passion and fervor before when the supposed "muse" had come to him before? The thought did not last long, as he had caught sight of the audience. They were spellbound. He had heard the word used before, usually by hacky critics in chintzy hometown circulars, but never until now did he understand the meaning of the word. Evans felt as if he could have dropped his pants on stage at this very moment and not one person would have noticed.
Even more astounding were the other actors. Evans listened intently as they gave the greatest performance of their careers. He hung on their every word, captivated by each tiny moment and expression. It was maddening and intoxicating at the same time. The rest of the play flew by as Evans watched from his bizarre front row seat. The standing ovation (when was the last time he had received one of those?) last nearly five minutes and when the audience finally did leave, they seemed to float up the aisles in numb stupefaction. Evans found himself surrounded backstage, cast and crew alike roundly congratulating hm on his indescribable performance.
The creature shook hands and accepted the accolades with a polite mask of gratitude, but the red, raw vein of contempt that punctuated each thought threatened to overwhelm Evans. The creature had nothing but disdain for the other actors. They were not worthy of its gift, of its talent or even sharing its stage. Goodbyes were said and then it locked itself in the dressing room. Flowers were promptly thrown in the trash and the creature hunted around for Evans' cell phone. It found it and dialed the number for his agent. Evans concluded that the thing must have been able to read his mind if it knew who to call. He filed that away in his mental notebook.
"Jerry? This is Evans. You need to get your ass out here tomorrow. Bring any producer or industry vampire you can wrangle. I'm back. I need to get the fuck out of this godforsaken city. What? I don't care how you get them here. Trust me."
It hung up, tossing the phone onto the vanity. Evans suddenly had the impression someone was looking at him. Not his body, but his little spark of consciousness tucked back somewhere in what was once his mind. He looked in the mirror. His face, still ruddy from the heat of the stage lights was reflected back to him, but the eyes were not his. Staring back at him were the horrible amber eyes of the creature.
"This is how things will go from now on. I called that less than worthless agent of yours, but you know that already. If you thought tonight was amazing..." The creature paused. "And you did think it was amazing, didn't you? Wait until you see my performance tomorrow. You just sit back and enjoy. Everything is going to be just fine."
Somehow Evans was not so sure.
He woke, trying to get an idea of where he was. All he could see was a white expanse of ceiling. He could tell it was early morning by the faint grey light filtering through the windows. He awoke again some time later. Evans had no real sense of time anymore, everything had become an amorphous slippery stream since THAT NIGHT (somehow it always flashed across his consciousness in all capitals), things had moved quickly. He did remember that much. His agent had arrived the next day in a huff, his normal veneer of fawning admiration undercut by a very real stream of annoyance and disbelief. He had managed to drag along some faceless, midlevel suit from a cable network, but had the good sense to set up a camera in the back of the theater. The performance the creature gave that night did indeed eclipse that of the previous evening.
His agent's fawning became very real after the show and the suit from the cable network was champing at the bit to throw a generous development deal his way. Before the creature could speak, Evans' agent had dismissed the offer as insulting, throwing in some witty jab about how cable television was the waiting room for career death. The old actor noted that neither mentioned that Evans had been doing nothing but regional theater for the last ten years, which worked out to be the career of the living dead.
His agent promised to show the tape to anyone he could make sit for the two minutes it would take anyone to be captivated by Evans' shocking rebirth as an actor. The man from the cable network promised much the same, and Evans had left them with a dismissive wave of the hand. Word spread quickly and soon the remaining shows of the run had been sold out. The creature had sneered at this, knowing it would be long gone before the week was out.
The next morning found him on a plane bound for Los Angeles. Evans supposed that's where he was now, in some hotel or the guest house of some major Hollywood player. He tried to remember the meetings, the offers, the interviews, but they all seemed to run together into one strange, blurred slideshow. When he looked again, his view had changed. There was a large room with a sunken floor. It looked familiar somehow, but the woman lying next to him did not. He had seen enough. He let himself lapse into the state of oblivion that divorced him from not just the world, but also the mind he shared with the creature. It was becoming harder and harder to resist the pull of that enveloping nothingness and Evans wondered how many more times he could come back from oblivion. His last thought was if he really cared to come back at all.
Excerpt from an Entertainment Weekly article entitled "Adam Evans, the Greatest Comeback in Hollywood History?" Written by Ben Ramirez.
I was recently given the increasingly rare privilege to sit down with Mr. Adam Evans, a man who after winning an oscar in 1978 for his performance in "Solid Ground" seemed to disappear from the face of the Earth. That is until recently, when he arose like the proverbial phoenix to lead a cast of unknowns in what is easily the best movie of the year, "Void", the story of a man trapped in a world of his own creation, only to find it rotting and crumbling around him. Evans plays the broken, decrepit patriarch Therron Wetherby. He brings an almost palpable fever of madness to the character that has entranced critics and audiences alike.
Ben Ramirez: So Mr. Evans, can you tell me what drew you to the role?
Adam Evans: Well, I've always enjoyed taking on challenges and after reading the script, I knew that I would never find anything more challenging than playing Therron Wetherby.
BR: I'm surprised to hear you say that. You seemed to disappear into the role so effortlessly. I suppose that must speak to the amount of hard work and preparation you put into the role. Is it true you spent the two months leading up to production living in the actual Collier's mansion that served as the primary setting for the film?
AE: How else would I be able to convey the decay of a man, mind, body and soul without living in his shoes?
BR: Very true. Did you ever worry about becoming lost in the character, of being trapped? I know there were some rumors from the set of an argument with a certain producer...
AE: (smiling roguishly) It's true we differed a bit on my methods, but in the end my performance changed his mind (chuckling) and I'm sure the box office returns helped a bit too.
BR: I know our time is running short, but I must ask, how does it feel to be a star again?
AE: It feels great. Like a new lease on life. I hate to be rude, but I really must be going.
(End of excerpt)
Hollywood Reporter Headline, January 26th.
" 'Void' Storms the Oscars, Evans Wins Big!"
New York Times Entertainment Special Report
"Evans to Begin Work on Next Project. Can Lightning Strike Twice?"
Adam Evans returned to consciousness in front of a mirror in a cavernous bathroom. He could feel the creature's eyes upon him. He looked out through the windows of his own eyes, meeting the gaze of those devilish, alien orbs. They stared at him, huddled away in the refuge of what was once his mind. The thing's gaze bored into him, a gleeful expectance evident in its eyes.
"How long has it been?"
The creature seemed caught off guard by Evans' question. He felt it consider for a moment.
Evans surveyed his reflection, fighting the nagging voice that continually wanted to know why he persisted in calling it his. His face was leaner than he remembered. It lent him an air of grizzled handsomeness he had been sure he could never achieve. His hair had grown long and was swept back from his brow in a silver wave rushing towards his right ear. He knew that this had once been his face, but it no longer felt like his. Reaching out for the blanket of oblivion, Evans knew that this time he would not come back. The creature would go on wearing his skin, using his name, but Adam Emanuel Evans, once Jeremy William McLaughlin, an electrician's boy from Pittsburgh was gone.
The creature felt him go. The pain was excruciating, as if someone was attempting to bore into his skull with a corkscrew. He clapped Evans' (now his) hands to the sides of his head as the pain threatened to rob him of consciousness. The thing wearing Adam Evans' skin sank to the tile floor, howling with inhuman fury and pain.
Excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter
"Adam Evans Hospitalized, Doctors Baffled."
The star of "Void" was hospitalized over the weekend for undisclosed reasons, but a source close to the actor says that doctors are clueless beyond the fact that whatever Evans has is life threatening and progressing rapidly. Evans could not be reached for comment.
Excerpt from the New York Times
"Hollywood Comeback Legend Adam Evans Dead at 58."
Adam Evans passed away early this morning after bravely battling a previously unknown auto-immune disease. The actor's doctors could not believe how quickly the disease overcame the aging star. "It was as if the disease turned his entire body against him. I've never seen anything like it." commented one physician. Evans passed during production of his writing and directorial debut, "Remote and Dark Years". "Remote and Dark Years" was entering its final week of shooting. No word yet if "Remote and Dark"'s producers plan on completing the film.