Just Like the Letter A

A famous independent filmmaker becomes convinced that his wife is having an affair and starts to lose control.

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Public Domain

Hart rose at 6am to prepare for a crucial planning meeting with his production team. After eighteen months of pitching his long-cherished project Crumpled Postcards to every Los Angeles production executive who owned a valid credit card and a pulse, it had finally got green-lit.

He ate a bowl of oatmeal and some fruit, then stepped into the shower and let a jet of hot water cascade down his back. As he agitated a metal stud piercing that sat on a nodal point between two meridian lines at the base of his spine, he smiled and imagined the powerful surge of chi energy he was generating. Yashi, Hart’s pet Zen geek up at Cupertino, had run him up a sleek little device that monitored his creative energy levels and the data it produced convinced him that he had way more inspired ideas as a result of the piercing.

Feeling alert and refreshed, he glanced down and saw some kind of tangle of purple fibres halfway up the stem of his penis. He tried to brush them away but they stubbornly refused to budge. Then he peered more closely and discovered a blood vessel had burst just under the skin and was forming a large spidery uppercase letter A.

After a momentary panic about his health, he was struck by the fact that his wife’s Christian name began with the same letter. Out of the blue, a queasy thought crawled up his spine and took complete possession of him—Albion Loosestrife had been cheating on him. Then he realised he couldn’t avoid the torment of finding out who she cared for more than him.

Closing his eyes, he scrubbed his hair furiously, towelled down, took one final glance at his tell-tale penis, and put on some clean clothes. Albion was away at Donastia film festival in Spain for the next five days. He fought the urge to pick up the phone immediately and confront her; instead he drank a cup of green tea, summoned his powers of concentration, and stowed away the problem in a mental flight case until after the meeting. If things between them were as bad as he feared, he was going to make this his best film yet, if only to preserve his fragile self-esteem.

The production meeting went well—he approved many of the drawings, budgets and schedules he was presented with and was distracted only momentarily by the thought of which of his attractive creative team he could start a retaliatory affair with. Luckily his producer Jay Cuth was always all about the business and scrutinized every minute detail.

Albion was back for barely a day before she drove up to San Francisco for meetings, and Hart hadn’t the time or inclination to interrogate her. As soon as she left the house he put his work aside and went through some routine domestic chores but found that rather than providing a bland, neutral diversion it merely provided him with more concrete evidence of her infidelity. He and Albion were committed humanitarians and environmentalists—they both drove Priuses, paid their domestic staff a decent living wage, and always took care to remove personal details from papers and packaging while recycling. So in the course of his duties he found amongst the contents of the luggage that she’d tipped onto her desk, various receipts and airline booking forms and hotel reservations. He sorted out the washing into dark and light piles, and sifted through numerous unfamiliar items of provocative, diaphanous underwear he’d never seen her wear before. It was becoming all too tedious and clichéd but still he found himself needing to sit down next to his pile of evidence, pull a tiny pair of silk knickers over his head, then rock back and forth gently, and chant.

When he got up he found the back-up hard-drive to her computer and tried to access her email and photos. He didn’t get far until he made a call to Yashi for assistance. In a way he was relieved to find that Albion had removed almost all of her emails, and there were only a few traces of conversation that betrayed a possibly overfamiliar tone.

He put all the objects back exactly where he found them—his memory was one of his most useful talents on set and saved him a lot of time in post-production. He went through his correspondence, finished the few remaining things he could get done on the film that day, and settled back with a macrobiotic beer to consider three questions: Where? When? and Who? He thought he knew the how of it already, but not the why; that just implied there was a good reason for what she’d done.

Albion scheduled in a couple extra business meetings that delayed her, but when she returned Hart had no more than a couple of unlikely names. He was warm and welcoming to her and uncharacteristically attentive to her account of her meetings and the festival. Come to think of it he’d been surprised she’d gone when she could see everyone she needed to right here in LA. The valuable networking opportunity blah blah blah wasn’t ringing true. A discreet few days with the latest love of your life in romantic Europe sounded more convincing, and it probably explained who she’d been seeing in San Francisco, so while she was out at the office he sifted through the Festival’s industry guest list and surprisingly only seven delegates appeared to be based in the San Francisco area. Four were women, who couldn’t be ruled out but didn’t seem her type, one was an ancient film academic who was in poor health, one was a gay producer, leaving only one final possibility: Edward Creed, a celebrated artist filmmaker who seemed to be picking up significant crossover appeal since he’d appeared in French Vogue and been mentioned by REM and Sonic Youth in interviews as an influence and inspiration.

Hart would never have considered Creed a professional rival, his films were expertly shot and measured but to Hart’s mind their artful opacity concealed the most banal ideas. The guy knew how to mythologize himself though—in fashionable art magazine articles and in important-looking catalogue essays (with which Hart was rapidly acquainting himself) he quoted Thoreau and the poets of the American West, he drove motorcycles, surfed, hung out in the desert, and climbed giant oaks in the forest. He habitually draped himself in Americana and the mantle of the romantic poet, and he looked the part, sinuously handsome with a few freshly etched lines of distinction that had arrived with his fortieth year, and lots of hair with bold streaks of grey. Hart had to concede that Albion could be attracted to that kind of well-packaged cultural construction.

Still it was just guesswork at this stage. What Hart needed was some evidence. None of Albion’s emails had been addressed to Creed but she did mention his installation piece in a side-bar to the festival in glowing terms in an email to her sister. Finally he found a photograph of her with her head in a book. She was looking at the camera—or rather the face on the front cover was looking at the camera. The face belonged to Edward Creed, and now the gamine, subtly clad female body below it belonged to him too. No prizes for guessing who was behind the camera—the background in the picture was artfully but casually composed and showed off his eye for landscape. Hart snarled at nothing in particular and decided it was time to call Yashi again. A few days later he had a dossier that plotted Creed’s movements for the last year, including all his press coverage and photos and online presence. The guy was generating a lot of heat and seemed almost indecently prolific.

Creed is a shrewd operator, thought Hart, he’s got a sweet but simple artistic system that he uses to pump out new work and spread it across the globe. In fact Creed at that point had at least three new works circulating the international festival circuit, a couple of installations at venerable public art galleries, and his various agents were selling numbered collectors editions of his back catalogue for astronomic prices.

Creed, it transpired, was equally adept with his social life. His website, Twitter, and Instagram pages were vastly oversubscribed and full of photos of pretty young people who worshipped him. It was also stuffed with images of hip cultural icons with whom he apparently felt aligned, and an endless procession of banquets and bashes at which he was fêted.

Hart paused. What did he want most: Revenge? To win back Albion’s love? Or simply to bring this slick arty fucker down?

Within minutes of spending a rare quiet night in with Albion it was clear that option A was not available.

“It’s great that you’ve got the money and all, but don’t you feel that you might be repeating themes that you’ve already exhausted?” Albion interjected as Hart laid out once more the outline for Crumpled Postcards.

Is that her talking or that fucker Creed? thought Hart, and what he might once have taken for thoughtful, productive criticism now sounded slightly insidious.

After fruit, herbal tisanes, and a few more carefully spaced suggestions about casting and narrative pace, Hart felt like his creativity was being stifled with the softest of caresses. “Let’s talk about your projects,” said Hart. “Anything exciting going to blossom out of your recent exploits?”

The normally cool Albion became uncharacteristically animated as she talked about an amazing idea she was exploring. “There’s no point in looking at over-financed action movies and kids’ pics anymore,” she said. “A lot of artists are making the transition to movies—Julian Schnabel, Miranda July, and Steve McQueen are just the tip of the iceberg—and the smart ones know how to make the numbers work and cross all platforms. And it’s sustainable, you know, less money upfront and into profits much quicker, no studio accountants hiding all the revenue and misattributing all the costs.”

Hart asked as innocently as he could manage, “Have you got anyone in mind? I mean I wouldn’t be averse to going off on a tangent from time to time, like Stephen Soderberg.”

The look on her face…the look on her face said it all. First the concrete smile you give a terminally ill patient looking for reprieve, instantly supplanted by a misty glance into middle distance, for the absent guy who really had some ideas. “Yes actually there’s this really fantastic artist and he’s in a direct line from Robert Smithson and Ed Ruscha, great American artists with a cinematic sensibility, his name’s Creed, I doubt you’ve heard of him.”

“Can’t say that I have,” said Hart. “Wait, he’s not that guy who fell out with Sonic Youth over a promo full of naked students?”

“What do you mean? He’s way more important than that, and no, actually he hasn’t fallen out with them.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you over-protective. What’s the concept?”

“There’s no concept,” she said. “He’s going to combine Chic Brewster’s Early Freight Train with Only The Short Ends and set it in Montana. He’s going to reimagine the tribe’s capture of the documentary crew with members of the Crow Nation and incorporate a sun dance, maybe.”

“Really?” said Hart. “That’s, erm, interesting. He preferred that to an original idea of his own?”

“This is an incredibly original idea,” she said. “And you know what? I’ve already got some very cool actors falling over themselves for a part for next-to-no-fee, and three quarters of the money is in place.”

“Wow, fast.”

“Yes, it’s all come together in the past three weeks, and because it’s going to be digital, of course, we aim to start shooting in ten weeks.”

“But you don’t even have a lead yet,” Hart said.

“Yeah we do, Rufus Scion, Milly Cusp and Elliot Radweed are all signed on for the main parts.”

“Does Rufus know he’ll be digging his own grave?” Hart was referring to the blisteringly cathartic scene in Early Freight Train in which Brewster digs up the grave of his dead father and stamps on top of him, but it was lost on Albion, apparently.

“He won’t be, Edward’s being very selective with the material and introducing lots of new dramatic ideas.”

“I always liked that scene,” said Hart. “One of Brewster’s best…so excessive, so tormented.”

It was clear that Hart’s opinions now carried zero weight with Albion. “So anyway,” she replied, “I’m glad we’re able to spend this evening together because I have an incredibly early start tomorrow and I’m heading up to Montana next week. So if you wouldn’t mind sleeping in the studio just this once I’d really be grateful.”

“For sure,” said Hart, and made his way along the terrace, past the cacti and pool to the studio as casually as he could.

When he woke the next morning, Albion had already gone; he half-suspected she’d left during the night, but at least they’d spoken more in forty minutes than they had in a month. It’s going to be all texts from now, he thought, a strategic separation in baby steps. Back in the shower he noticed with astonishment that although the purple blemish on his penis was continuing to fade, it had transformed into a small question mark.

“Yeah what it is,” he whispered to himself as he tweaked his piercing. Going to need to boost this some, he thought, and texted Yashi to request he build a device that could deliver a small electrical charge—that should really jump-start the creative juices. Hart padded back to his bedroom and put on some fresh clothes, then slugged back some of the brackish green health smoothie that Juana the housekeeper had put out for him, and headed out the door full of determination to make an amazing film and get some serious payback on Albion and Creed.

A few days later, work on Crumpled Postcards had gained momentum and was making significant progress. It was something of a blessing that its narrative—a spry, very modern take on the buddy movie seen through the distorting lens of the economic and social collapse of contemporary middle America—couldn’t be more different to the current events in Hart’s personal life.

After a day of end-to-end meetings, Hart had a convivial dinner with Jay, who was picking up on his manic energy but put it down to his desire to make a really definitive artistic statement with the new project. Hart drove back to his empty house, rode the funicular railway up to the front door, something he never did, walked straight into the lounge and flopped onto a sofa.

While weighing up the facts about his marriage it struck him that Albion had described Early Freight Train as a Chic Brewster film. Did they think Brewster had acted and directed it as well as Only The Short Ends? Here was a possible opportunity. Hart actually knew Bernard Kleiner, director of the film, who still owned the rights as far as he knew. He’d first befriended him while he was a film student, and Kleiner had for a short while been something of a mentor to him. He’d met Albion long after and he was certain she didn’t know him. Kleiner wasn’t as popular as he’d once been but he still seemed to have no problems getting films made, and for Hart’s money he’d actually been quietly getting on with refining his talent. So often compared to Robert Altman, early in his career, as if there were no other witty chronicler of complex Californian relationships, he’d become a subtly insightful maker of what once were called Women’s Pictures—a latter day Laurel Canyon George Cukor, if you will. Maybe Hart could create a little turbulence here and start to mess with their minds. What would Creed be like when he didn’t automatically get his own way, pondered Hart. Why, I guess he’d blame his producer.

Hart took a few days to find the right excuse to ring Kleiner and get together for lunch. There was a scene in Crumpled Postcards that could be played in a way that would nod respectfully to Kleiner’s Duck Pancakes, and Hart wanted to know if Bernard would take a cameo part. Kleiner wasn’t especially enthusiastic but they met up at a smart brasserie near the New Beverly Cinema, where his films were regularly shown.

Kleiner was wearing his perennial white linen cap—the one he claimed Jean Paul Belmondo had given him, a loosely knotted polka dot silk scarf, an ice blue suit, and that youthful winning smile of his. Hart was reassuringly amused to find that Kleiner was as fastidious as ever. He requested the waiter move them three times before he found a table he felt comfortable with, then sailed straight off the menu and gave a set of precise instructions on how he wanted his food cooked and how it should be served. At the end of the meal the waiter set down some coffee deconstructed, as per instruction, into its constituent parts in three small jugs and two warm cups, along with the bill. His shoulders seemed to buckle slightly as he withdrew.

By then their conversation had ranged far and wide. Hart feigned mild disappointment that Kleiner had never recorded their conversations as he had done so meticulously with his friend Fritz Lange, to which Henry replied, “Be careful what you wish for.” Then Hart carefully steered him towards art and film. With a little probing, Hart soon had Bernard in a penetrating self-reflective mood. When he got into his stride he grabbed a pen and jotted down some of his thoughts on a napkin so he didn’t forget them. Bernard had a great talent for turning the most fleeting remarks and observations into rich creative substance. As they were about to part, Hart dropped the dime—wasn’t it fascinating that an artist was going to reinterpret Early Freight Train? Kleiner knew nothing about it, but he’d heard of Edward Creed.

“He has an interesting eye,” said Bernard. “But I’m not sure he would grasp the significance of what we achieved on that film, and there were things we did with the editing nobody had done before and can’t be replicated.”

They left it there, and promised to meet again as soon as Bernard had had a chance to think about what he could do with the cameo.

It may come to nothing, but at least the first fly has crash-landed in the ointment, thought Hart, although he was genuinely put out that Creed was going to screw around with Bernard’s film. As it turned out, luck was on Creed’s side. Albion managed to get Chic Brewster’s son Waldo to appear in the film, and when Kleiner proved a little sticky about permitting them to reinterpret Early Freight Train, Waldo Brewster managed to persuade him to acquiesce in return for taking a role in Kleiner’s forthcoming project. Still for a couple of sweet weeks, Hart could make sympathetic noises to his wife on the fleeting occasions he saw her. She was steadily, gently withdrawing from him and when he pointed out that her work had never come between them to this extent in the past, she simply stated that her whole career was riding on the project and she needed his support and patience.

Crumpled Postcards was moving along nicely. Kleiner texted him some terrific ideas for his cameo which dovetailed perfectly into the script, and the scenes almost wrote themselves. And although it was shooting later than Creed’s as-yet-unnamed project, as far as Hart was concerned, it would be ideal if his and Creed’s release dates could be made to coincide. Let the public decide who’s the best man, he mused.

At the beginning of July, Hart made a serious miscalculation one night after a few beers when he found Albion stealthily collecting a few things before disappearing again, and he let his guard slip and goaded her into an argument. He managed not to come right out and reveal his hand but he dropped a few searching comments about her and Creed’s big thing, and she didn’t miss a beat as she told him in a matter-of-fact tone that given his current frame of mind she’d be moving out—at least until they’d both completed their films.

The next day her P.A. arrived with a small hire van and took away a large chunk of Albion’s wardrobe with a patronising smirk on her face, or so Hart believed. Hart had always admired Albion’s calm reserve and the surgical precision with which she cut deals without raising her voice or betraying any sign of anger or frustration. The slightest incline of her chin seemed to speak volumes, and objections to her demands would simply evaporate. Now it didn’t seem cool to be so controlled, so focused, so ruthless. A fleeting memory of Nigel Void’s legendary on-set meltdown during the shooting of his second film brought a wry smile to his lips. Yeah, you can blow a bum note on even the most finely tuned instrument, he thought, vaguely comforted. Then he texted Mistral Thane and asked her to accompany him to an Academy event that week. It was last minute but Mistral, now America’s go-to-girl for bohemian mystique of the Tilda Swinton or Jeanne Balibar variety, agreed. She had a soft spot for Hart, he’d given her a big acting break on that funny crazy film of his and made her an absolutely fearless actress. Hart looked good with Mistral in the trade photos and gossip columns, and he hoped Albion got to see them.

Time to get busy again, thought Hart, and he decided to contact an independent film journalist who showed an almost slavish devotion to Creed. It was weird the way the guy’s usually incisive criticism turned to breathless uncritical mush on the subject of Creed’s films. Still he had been generally positive to Hart’s own films, and seemed to have a huge knowledge of not only Creed’s films and working practices but his general whereabouts, likes, and dislikes at any moment. This guy could be very useful to me with or without his co-operation, Hart had decided. Philip Leung took the bait when Hart offered him an interview, ostensibly about the forthcoming Crumpled Postcards through his publicity agent. Hart did his homework and read Leung’s blogs, articles, and tweets for the preceding 18 months, with particular attention to those mentioning Creed.

They met at Jay’s offices, and Hart showed him some funny spoof screen-tests Bernard had sent over and some outtakes from a couple of the film diaries he liked to shoot between projects. Leung was suitably flattered and opened up over lunch. Hart maintained his best poker face as Leung made a slightly dismissive comment about Kleiner in relation to Creed and mentioned surprise at seeing Albion in Hart’s film diaries. He’d met her a couple of times with Creed and started to look very awkward when Hart explained their connection. But by then it was too late, he’d already given a point by point breakdown of the shooting schedule for Creed and Albion’s film, a lot of small stuff about their artistic and social activities, casting decisions, and the discretion with which they were having to arrange the shooting of a sweat lodge scene up at Crow Creek Falls in Montana. Hart couldn’t tell which Leung loved most, Creed’s films or Creed himself. Leung left with some good copy. His concerns that he’d spoken out of turn quickly subsided, and he duly blogged a generally appreciative piece that would prove a useful early teaser for Crumpled Postcards. Hart was pleased he’d managed to keep things on a professional level. When the two met again, that might not be possible.

Two weeks later, all the key pieces of pre-production for Crumpled Postcards were on lock, and Hart was able to leave Jay overseeing the project while he took a week off to do a little location scouting, or so he put it. He hadn’t heard a thing from Albion, but he knew reliably from Philip Leung’s blog that they were ready to film the sun dance at the annual Crow Nation Gathering just outside of Billings, so Hart flew up to Montana with his friend Burt Owlhead, a tough former stunt rider with Sioux and Blackfoot heritage who’d worked in many capacities on his films and would act as his minder on this trip. Hart let him into a little of his reason for making the trip, but Burt was an extremely perceptive individual and decided that Hart should gain some deep spiritual experiences along the way that would help him through the conflicts he was working through. Which essentially meant he was bringing along a suitcase full of sure-fire means to instant enlightenment if Hart didn’t get there through the peyote songs and ritual.

They had a pleasant flight then a nice relaxed drive to Billings in a big diesel-hungry Toyota SUV. They paid little attention to the scenery on the road, but they talked a great deal. Hart learned that Burt’s grandmother had been a Polynesian actress and dancer in Busby Berkely musicals; a free spirit who used to feed him alfalfa sprouts and avocado, gather herbs and berries with him among the Hollywood hills, and rolled him his first joint. They thought for a while about the scenes in Chic Brewsters’s Only The Short Ends in which the Amazon tribe members overturn the quasi-shamanic Jean Rouch-style filming and record their ritual torture of the documentarians, and wondered how this could be translated into similar interactions with tribes like the Crow.

“Well, first of all you can’t compare a people who’ve been forced to play the bad guy throughout movie history and have been exposed to white American culture for hundreds of years with a Brazilian tribe in the Amazon who’ve been so isolated that the first time they see a film crew they turn it into a blood-letting ritual,” said Burt, then turned his attention to the forthcoming event. “Superficially there’s a vague connection with the sun and the elements and the seasons, but the sun dance we’ll be seeing here is a sanitised version of the original Crow dance, which was all about revenge, using self-torture and prayer and diakaashe, sincere determination, to summon up the power to vanquish rival tribes who’d killed Crow braves.”

“That’s a dance worth knowing,” said Hart, and hoped that he might see it performed.

The next day started off a picture of searing blue clarity, but became a cloud-scudding blur. After setting up camp in the largest tipi gathering in the world, Hart and Burt watched lots of horse-riding contests, leatherworking displays, food contests, and classes in hunting skills before the Cedar Man started drumming, and a procession led by the Road Man announced the start of the peyote songs and the Sundance. By this time Burt and Hart had already consumed a mild hallucinogenic.

Hart got a wi-fi signal and checked Philip Leung’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. It was amazing to Hart that thanks to social media he didn’t even have to ask him any questions, he just had to sift through the endless stream of Leung’s posts until he came across the information he was looking for. Sure enough he learned that Creed had already driven north with his cast and crew, frustrated that he’d been unable to film with the kind of control to which he was used.

I suppose you get spoiled filming trees, thought Hart.

According to Leung, they had abandoned the whole revisionist Amazonian sequence and decided to focus on the transformative power of the sweat lodge. Even Yashi couldn’t get me this degree of detail, thought Hart, but he had customised a battery-operated neurostimulator, no bigger than a stopwatch, to make his new supercharged meridian blaster, for which he was acutely grateful. Creed and Albion might have gone, but Hart decided he’d stay long enough to find some meaning in the experiences around him, and embraced the solace he hoped to find in the peyote songs.

He and Burt took part in the mashing of the cactus and the preparation of the peyote, then ate and drank their fill. Maybe he’d learn something valuable before they made the four hours plus drive north to Crow Creek Falls and Creed’s replica sweat lodge. At first Hart’s thought process seemed augmented somehow and he wondered why he’d approached the whole affair with Albion without any of the rigour and objectivity with which he analysed the feelings and actions of the characters in his films. And why had he failed to tackle her directly and simply transfer his anger towards Creed, a man of whom he’d had no direct experience.

An hour later he was chanting, “The sky is my father and the mountain is my mother,” his spikey corn-coloured hair glinting in the late afternoon sun as he skipped and scuffed the dirt in small circles between lines of dancing Crow warriors in beads and feathers and buckskin. As he increased the electrical charges to his piercing, the thirst for revenge started to rise in his belly again. Got to tune up, tune up, he told himself. When they left the gathering he managed to convince Burt to stay with him all the way up to Crow Creek Falls.

“Why have you got this?” said Burt as he looked at a bundle of bones and fur, coloured claws and feathers.

“It’s a witchcraft medicine bundle,” Hart said.

“I know what it is,” replied Burt. “I wanna know why you got it.”

“I’m gonna mess this guy up.”

“You got something seriously wrong here. The only person you’re gonna mess up is you. The Crow way, the Sioux way, the Blackfoot way, it’s not about self-reliant individualist white shit, it’s about co-operation and exchange and reciprocity between humans and nature and spirits. You’re doing this all wrong, man.” Burt sighed. “And it’s gonna get nasty.”

By the time they stumbled out of the SUV near Crow Creek Falls, Hart was even more the worse for wear. His eyes were crusty and rimmed with red, the pupils tiny pins of black ink, and his mouth and nostrils were caked with specks of dried saliva mixed with cactus pulp.

“Got to let you go now, Hart,” said Burt. “You look like you’re about to leave your body and there’s no knowing if you’ll find your way back, but I have a blessing for you and a promise. Find that sweat lodge and let it redeem you, wash away all those evil thoughts about your woman and Creed, and step back out of the forest with a clean spirit.” The sermons of generations of Pentecostal preachers dedicated to Christian conversion had worked their way under the skin of many Native Americans, and you could hear traces of it in Burt’s words.

Hart shambled off through the trees, somehow avoiding the sheer drop into the river, and spinning forwards towards the source of his bad intentions.

Albion had her back to the lowering skyline as she ate seafood linguine and drank a glass of white wine from the Coppola vineyard in the meticulously hewn and spotless dining room of the Boulder Hot Springs Hotel, but Hart couldn’t know this, and when, after who knew how much time, he saw a faint light a ways off from the approaching watery crescendo of the falls, he followed curling lines of rising smoke and steam until he stepped past a fire and a pile of white hot stones. He pulled back the entrance flap of the beautifully reconstructed sweat lodge—a framework of tense branches of bent willow hung with tarps and homespun materials—and saw ghostly naked figures taking turns to share their dreams.

“Bring seven handfuls of water,” one of them said to him.

He turned back to the pile of stones and saw a bucket of water. One by one he dropped his seven handfuls of water on four large stones set in a shallow pit to one side within the sweat lodge. A space appeared for him to sit down, and he was handed sagebrush and horsetails with which to scourge himself in preparation for the next stage of his journey. When his turn to speak came, nightmares and visions tumbled out of his eyes and mouth as he saw his fears re-enacted on the flickering walls of the sweat lodge. There was Albion locked around Creed, with Leung leering enthusiastically at their side, wildly applauding at their vitality and ingenuity as their bodies bucked and arched. As the next seated figure began to speak, Hart threw down his medicine bundle and drew out a long hunting knife which he thrust repeatedly into the entwined bodies of the couple. His actions became more frenetic, and all reason abandoned him.

The next morning he woke, still stoned, but rested. The sweat lodge was empty of people but filled with damp warm air. He turned up Yashi’s new customised neurostimulator to the max, and sent an electrical charge through his meridian lines. An interaction between the vapour in the sweat lodge and the device created a flash and a sudden shockwave that threw him across the room onto the stones. He crawled outside, stunned but feeling like the emotional pain of the past months had suddenly flown away. Looking at the sweat lodge in daylight, he was struck by its beauty. Creed really had an eye for detail, maybe he was an artist.

Hart walked around it until he was shocked to see a bloodied human skin spread casually on top. “Oh my God, what the fuck did I do?” said Hart.

“You tell me, what have you done?” said Edward Creed, who was walking towards him. “Good to finally meet you, Hart, but what are you doing here? We start shooting in an hour.”

Hart turned back at the bloody pelt. Some of Jay’s deal-making cunning must have rubbed off on him. As he noticed an expensive digital voice recorder on the ground, identical to the one Leung had used for his interview, he calculated the odds in a microsecond, looked Creed up and down, snorted at a large purple letter A embroidered on the crotch of his faded jeans, and replied, “Me? I think you’re the one who has some explaining to do.”

He motioned towards the skin, and said, “Look what you did to that poor misguided critic, Leung. I’m going to call this in to the local police right now.”

Creed glanced at the bright orange anorak on the sweat lodge that Hart was staring at so intently. Philip Leung had kindly loaned him it to cover a hole made to take a camera position. He smiled quizzically at Hart.

“Hart,” he said, as he took the hunting knife from his hand, “you look like you could do with some breakfast. Why don’t we join Albion and Philip back at the hotel?”

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John has worked in cinema, journalism and advertising and writes fiction when he can.

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