Sunday, October 30, 2011

Church of the Living Dead

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Recently, fifteen-year-old Tabitha Dunkleman found herself sitting in Pastor O’Donnell’s office anxiously awaiting a decision on a request she had made. She was with her best friend Katie who also happened to be the pastor’s daughter. Tabitha hoped that would make a difference. If the pastor didn’t let her shoot in the church, there was no way she could make her short film.

Tabitha had only recently decided she wanted to be a movie director. And the kinds of movies she wanted to make were horror movies. She’d written a short script about zombies attacking a wedding called “Old, New, Undead, Blue.” She’d asked Katie to star in it because Katie was her best friend. The fact that her father also happened to have access to a church was a bonus. Now they just needed him to say yes.

“When did you want to do this?” O’Donnell asked.

“A week from Friday,” Tabitha said.

The pastor checked the church calendar. “Well, there’s nothing scheduled for that Friday, but the Humpleman wedding is in the sanctuary on Saturday, so you’ll have to make sure you leave everything the way you found it.”

Tabitha grinned and swore they’d be extra careful.

With their location secured, Tabitha spent the next ten days meticulously planning her shoot. On the designated Friday, the cast and crew gathered at the church after school. Tabitha had recruited a quiet boy named Ben from her art class to do the zombie make-up and effects. Tabitha knew that Katie thought Ben was creepy – he always wore black and drew bizarre pictures all over his notebooks. But creepy was just what Tabitha needed for her movie.

Ben had been at work all week creating a crucial prop for the film – a severed arm. When he unveiled it to Katie and Tabitha they both took an involuntary step back in disgust. “That’s not real, is it?” Katie asked.

Ben laughed. “Of course not. It’s made of latex and gel. I found a video online that showed how to create realistic body part props.”

Tabitha smiled. “This movie is going to be awesome.”

Ben began doing make-up on the actors who were to play zombies while the crew set up the camera and equipment. The crew consisted of two people – Tabitha and cinematographer Becky Goodhart, a twelve-year-old member of the church whose primary qualification was that her parents owned a top-of-the-line digital video camera.

It took longer than Tabitha anticipated to set up the gear, but they still finished before the make-up was done. Tabitha checked her watch nervously. She called Ben aside to ask what was taking so long. “It’s the little girl you got to play the ring bearer,” he told her. “Her dad’s made me redo her make-up three times.”

Tabitha had cast Sierra Smith, a five-year-old girl from the church, to play the part of a zombie ring bearer. Her father, Arthur, was certain Sierra would be a movie star some day. Either that or President.

At first, Ben had just dusted Sierra with powder to make her pale and smeared dark eye shadow under her eyes. But Arthur noticed how much gorier the other zombies were, and insisted Ben make Sierra similarly gruesome. So Ben added gaping wounds on her cheeks and forehead. But when Arthur saw this, he worried that when Hollywood agents saw the film, as he was sure they would, they wouldn’t be able to tell how cute Sierra was. So Ben tried to split the difference, but the result was neither horrific enough nor cute enough to satisfy Arthur.

“None of my books explain how to do make-up that’s both horrifying and cute,” Ben confided to Tabitha.

While Ben reworked Sierra’s make-up for a fourth time, Tabitha decided to shoot some of the scenes with the non-zombie characters. Katie was starring as the bride. She had convinced her boyfriend, Alex, to play the groom. The idea of dressing up in a wedding dress and marrying Alex in the church thrilled Katie, even if it was just pretend.

They began with a scene where the groom professes his love for the bride as the zombies close in. Katie was terrific, but Alex couldn’t seem to remember his lines. Or rather he remembered them, but never in the proper order. After fourteen takes, Tabitha suggested the two take a break so Alex could study his script some more. They were now two and a half hours behind schedule and hadn’t gotten a single shot. Tabitha was starting to worry that she wouldn’t even finish the film.

Tabitha went to check on the status of Sierra’s make-up. She was pleased to discover that Arthur had finally approved a look – basically the same pale, hollow eyed effect Ben had started with. They set up for the shot of the zombie ring bearer chowing down on the fake arm. Unfortunately, when Sierra saw the arm, she began to cry. It took half an hour to convince her it wasn’t real, and another half-hour to get her to pretend to bite it.

When they finally did get Sierra to chew on the arm, it was delightfully disturbing. Tabitha’s confidence returned in a flood – only to abandon her just as quickly when they tried a shot of Sierra shuffling up the aisle. Sierra did a very convincing undead shuffle, but could only go two steps before breaking into a giggle. Tabitha did her best to demonstrate a proper zombie moan, but it only made Sierra laugh more.

Tabitha decided to give Sierra a break and return to the bride and groom scene. She found Alex running lines with Ben. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“Great,” Alex replied. “Ben’s going to be the groom. He’s a much better actor than I am.”

Tabitha looked at her watch. She was almost four hours behind schedule. “Fine,” she said.

“So you’ll tell Katie, right?” Alex said.

“Why me?” Tabitha asked.

“You’re the director.”

Tabitha went to break the news to Katie. Her star was not pleased. “Ben’s a nerd!” Katie hissed. “Nobody will believe I’d marry someone like that.”

“They will because you’re such a great actress,” Tabitha replied. She was a natural at dealing with actors.

It took quite a bit more buttering up, but finally Katie agreed to do the scene with Ben. They got into position and Tabitha called, “Action.” At first it didn’t go very well. Ben was indeed a fine actor, but when he took Katie’s hand, she wrinkled her nose as though he were already undead. And when he went to kiss her, the rest of Katie’s face scrunched up just like her nose.

But then something happened. As the kiss lingered, Katie relaxed into it. When she and Ben separated, Katie stared at him slack jawed.

“Cut!” Tabitha yelled. “Katie, that’s your line.”

“Sorry,” Katie mumbled.

“From the top,” Tabitha ordered. “Action.”

This time, the romantic tension was electric. Tabitha got so caught up in the scene, she forgot to call cut until Becky nudged her. “That was amazing!” Tabitha shouted. “I bet we win awards for this film.”

When Ben went to put on zombie make-up for his next scene, Katie pulled Tabitha aside. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she whispered. “Don’t tell Alex, but Ben is an excellent kisser. Alex is kind of… slobbery.”

Tabitha went to see if Sierra had gotten over her giggles. She found the little girl curled up on one of the pews asleep, using the fake severed arm as a pillow. “It’s an hour past her bedtime,” Arthur said apologetically.

“I guess we can cut that shot out of the movie,” Tabitha said with a sigh. Just when things were going so well.

Arthur apologized again and gently shook Sierra. “Time to go home, honey.”

Sierra climbed to her feet and staggered out into the aisle, her eyes glassy and half-closed and her mouth hanging open loosely. She looked just like the walking dead. “Start rolling,” Tabitha hissed to Becky. They got the shot.

It was now 11:00 p.m. and there were still several scenes left to shoot. Becky’s mom had come to pick her up, but Tabitha convinced her to let Becky stay a while longer by offering her the hastily added part of the bride’s mother.

They were setting up for the last scene, the tragic revelation that the groom had become a zombie, when Becky’s mom finally ran out of patience. She insisted Becky come home, but did agree to let the camera stay behind. Alex took over as cinematographer.

At 3:00 a.m. Tabitha finally sighed, “That’s a wrap.” Only she, Katie, Alex, and Ben were left to clean up. Tabitha was so exhausted she no longer cared whether the film was any good, she was just happy to be finished. Ben, however, was still full of energy. As Tabitha was making a final sweep of the sanctuary picking up props, he jumped out at her from between the pews, still in his zombie make-up, growling.

Tabitha was too tired to be startled, so she just chuckled.

“Is that how you react when the undead tries to bite you,” Ben said, pretending to pout.

“Better be careful,” Tabitha replied. “I might just bite back.” And then she kissed him.

A second later she pulled away, her face flushing. “I don’t know why I did that,” she stammered. “I guess… Katie told me you were a good kisser.”

“Do you agree?” Ben asked. Tabitha felt herself blush even deeper but couldn’t muster an answer. “Well, I think you’re a pretty good kisser,” Ben said with a smile and kissed her again.

“A-hem!” It was Katie. She was looking at them in utter shock.

Tabitha wiped Ben’s monster make-up from around her mouth. “We were just—”

“I saw what you were just,” Katie said. “Come on, I have to lock up and I’m tired.”

The filmmakers headed home for some well-earned sleep.

The next day Pastor O’Donnell was presiding over the Humpleman wedding when in the middle of his musings about the nature of commitment, someone let out a blood-curdling scream. It seemed the bride’s aunt had discovered the fake severed arm that had been forgotten under one of the pews.

Happy Halloween!


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1 comment:

mamatha said...

Thanks for sharing this interesting church stories,really its very nice.
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