Fiction/Poetry

In Honor of the Oscars, 2022—from “Freaks of the Industry”

By Adam Novak

“The real Anti-Christ is he who turns the wine of an original idea into the water of mediocrity.” 

—Eric Hoffer

Red and pink static in a circle; eye of an electromagnetic field; jolts of energy pulsing in his veins; flocks of birds morphing into white crucifixes, startling Antwon Legion from his onyx reflection in the bulletproof glass of the Hummer limousine.Samoan bodyguards Fruity and Balthazar, formerly with Justin Timberlake, notice Legion flinch, decide it’s nothing, go back to sharing a cherry blunt, filling up the cabin with ganja smoke. At least the movie star wasn’t having a fitful nightmare about being crucified in Golgotha, which was heavy, and often. Legion takes a massive hit, coughs up a lung, plays with his Doberman, Bulgakov, as the Hummer rolls through Century City, past a homeless guy with a WILL SCREENWRITE FOR FOOD sign, arriving in front of Omniscience.

Inside the mausoleum lobby, surrounded by every living soul of the agency, Lester Barnes welcomes the Stygian movie star with a fist bump. Legion appreciates their applause, his favorite sound in the world, all those subservient white faces making him the master, and they, his slaves.

As motion-picture, branded lifestyle, and television agents introduce themselves, the puffy clouds outside the floor-to- ceiling windows make the conference room seem celestial. Legion clutches his Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, I Am Legion, relating his horrific childhood in abusive foster homes, a lifetime on the streets, and his rescue of an HIV-infected crack baby from drug dealers and indifferent bureaucrats. The corporate consulting agents have already made Legion’s dream of being a Memphis barbecue sauce entrepreneur real with the launch of “Brimstone BBQ” on fellow client Rachael Ray’s cooking show; a Legion-inspired cologne will be offered exclusively at Macy’s as well as a line of homeless- chic apparel in partnership with Target/Isaac Mizrahi. In addition to Legion’s lucrative Claymation commercials for Coke Zero, a trio of book agents declare they have closed an eight-figure deal with HarperCollins for his inspirational tome FINDING ANTWON. Legion searches the room for the one person nobody thought to invite, his thousand watt smile disappearing—

“Where’s reader-guy?” The room has no idea who Legion is talking about. Unscripted TV agent Bramley Nazarian announces Legion will produce and star in a new ABC reality dating show where top sororities from the number one party schools in the nation compete against the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, USC Song Girls, and famous MILFS like Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez to win his heart—

“People, we need to hit the pause button.”

The room temperature turns Arctic; north of the eightieth parallel, everybody freezes.

“I need Larry Mersault in this meeting.”

Fingers are snapped and an agent trainee is dispatched to retrieve the star’s favorite minion.

Wearing distressed jeans and a James Perse T-shirt with food stains that says “668: Neighbor of the Beast,” Larry Mersault is greeted by Legion with a soulful dap followed by an elaborate secret handshake, with every agent in the room hatefully wondering what the fuck is going on. The movie star places his reader between Fruity and Balthazar in the nosebleed seats behind the oceanic conference table. Legion causes a covering agent to blush when he thanks her for getting him a meeting with Spielberg. A senior agent with white hair raises a project at Universal his client is directing called “The Carthaginian” about the elephant-riding Hannibal that could be his Gladiator. When the star catches Mersault yawning, Legion declares he doesn’t make movies with titles he cannot pronounce. Another agent, Korean, raises his hand. Lester Barnes nods, and the agent in Prada brings up Legion playing the heavy in the next James Bond installment. Lester suggests maybe MGM should consider Antwon as the next 007. Legion tells the room he doesn’t want to play a villain, not yet, and he doesn’t want to be James Bond—

“Are there any scripts out there about Jesus Christ?” 

The room laughs, thinking Legion is fucking with them. 

Larry Mersault raises his hand. 

The room goes quiet.

Mersault suggests an unproduced script called “Golgotha” by writer/director Thør Rosenthal.

The room detonates with dollar signs.

“It’s Se7en meets Last Temptation of Christ. Pontius Pilate hires a private detective named Judas to investigate a serial killer who may or may not be the Messiah.”

Legion hushes the room the way a quarterback silences a stadium.

“Is the script as good as Faith Don’t Leave?”

“Better,” says Mersault.

Legion steps around the flesh peddlers to Fruity and Balthazar sandwiching Mersault and raises the reader’s paw like Buster Douglas in Tokyo—

“It’s Miller Time.”

Studying the credits of an autographed poster of Liquid Sky, waiting for the head of legal affairs to finish a call, Mersault grins at a Kevlar vest (bullseye target on its back) framed in bulletproof-glass with a message from Justice for Janitors: THE BEST NIKOLOVSKI IS A DEAD NIKOLOVSKI.

“A studio executive, the Anti-Christ, and a script reader walk into a club. The bartender looks at them and says: ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ That’s it. That’s the joke. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Someone, somewhere, is tired of screwing Libra.”

Hanging up, Nikolovski turns to the reader: “Lester and I had a conversation about you the other day.”

“Is that right?”

“We were discussing how to raise your profile.”

The lawyer opens his desk drawer, unfolds a dusty fuck towel from Abyssinia, revealing a gem-encrusted handle of a sacrificial knife.

“Antwon Legion must die.”

“Say it again?”

“You’re the only one in the industry he trusts.” 

“And if I say no?”

“No is just a moment in time.”

“Does this have anything to do with Antwon cutting his commission?”

“We don’t do nickels.”

“Why do I get the Sophie’s Choice? I’m not even an agent.”

“I’ve arranged for you to play Longinus, the Roman Centurion who pierces Jesus in his ribs. Someone will hand you a prop spear on set. Affixed to the blade will be this ancient secespita. You will be the next I Am Legend and Golgotha will be his Samarra.”

“Is that like Two Bunch Palms?”

“A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the market square for groceries. Hours later, the servant comes back terrified, telling his master he ran into a woman he recognized as Death, and she made a frightening gesture toward him. The servant steals a horse and escapes to Samarra where he thinks Death cannot find him. The merchant goes to the market square where Death is sipping a green tea latte and demands to know why she made a menacing gesture at his servant. Death goes, ‘It wasn’t menacing. I was shocked to see him in Baghdad because I have a spinning class with him tomorrow in Samarra.’”

Nikolovski picks up the blade, walks around the standing desk and places a hand on Mersault’s shoulder—

“You’re asking me to murder my friend.” 

Meeting over, Nikolovski offers the reader a farewell fist bump. 

“You could get the Thalberg Award for this.”

Red and pink static in a circle, eye of an electromagnetic field, a mackerel sky; BOSE headphones over a crown of thorns blasts Creed’s “My Own Prison” in Legion’s ears. A camera assistant catches the flicked-away headphones, holds up a monitor on a selfie stick to an immobile Legion on the gore-soaked lumber, awaiting approval.

“Let’s do this,” says the redeemer-director.

All those on set steel themselves to shoot the crucifixion in a single, uninterrupted take.

First AD queries the crew: “Is everybody ready?”

(Earlier, in the garden of Gethsemane, Legion huddles with his followers, giving them props for enduring the last forty days in the desert: “I say to you today you will be with me in paradise,” leading them with the morning chant for the last time: “Say who, say ha! Say who, say ha! Say who, who, who, 1-2-3-GOLGOTHA!”)

“Speed,” yells the sound recordist, followed by “Camera A rolling!” and “Camera B rolling!”

The clapper loader fills the frame with a digital slate: 

“Scene two twenty eight, take one.”

The first AD bellows: “Action!”

Start on Legion’s exposed ribcage.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Legion turns to the thieves Gestas and Dismas execrating

God for their crucifixion.

“I thirst!” cries Legion, his eye-line clear, storm clouds in the distance.

Extras raise a sponge dipped in sour wine on a sprig of hyssop to the star’s parched lips.

The one-take bravura shot continues.

Legion recognizes Larry Mersault playing a Roman centurion among the crowd of local hires, reluctant expression on his face, unclean blade attached to his pike.

All at once, the set disappears. The sun is no more.

Gestas and Dismas, gone.

The extras.

The trailers.

The camera equipment.

The camera operator.

The focus puller.

All gone, as if making movies never existed.

Legion: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Shafts of sunlight knife through aboriginal darkness.

Gestas and Dismas reappear, cursing their predicament.

With spear of destiny upturned, the extra-turned-assassin Larry Mersault makes his move.

Everyone is back on set.

The epic one-take shot pulled off.

Mersault: “You’re dead, Antwon.”

Only then does the biggest movie star in the world unleash a thousand watt smile.

“It is accomplished—”


Adam Novak is the author of the novels Take FountainFreaks of the Industry, and The Non-Pro. His latest novel in the Omniscience series, Rat Park, was published in March by Red Giant Books.  

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